Legal under fire
Millikin and GM’s legal department came under repeated fire during more than three hours of questioning.
Millikin faced particularly pointed questions over how his department settled numerous legal claims linked to the switches beginning in 2006 and how it responded to federal regulators’ requests for more information about certain crashes. Some of the actions occurred before he became general counsel, but he offered few answers about any of them.
“There was a clear understanding in terms of my expectations of the kinds of issues to bring to my attention,” Millikin told the panel. “For some reason that did not happen here and that’s very troubling to me.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent what are known as “death inquiries” to GM on some of the fatal crashes now linked to the recalls.
GM either opted not to respond to questions about what caused the crashes or said it didn’t know how they happened, even after its engineers had studied them and reached some conclusions, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.
Barra said the people who gave those responses to NHTSA are among those dismissed, without identifying them.
Millikin said GM provided additional compensation packages to some of the 15 employees it dismissed for their role in the company’s handling of the faulty switches. Millikin did not identify who received exit packages or what they received. None of the employees who were let go is challenging his or her termination, he said.
Besides lawyers, GM fired Ray DeGiorgio, the engineer who approved the switch in 2002 even though it failed to meet GM’s own torque specification, then authorized a redesign in 2006 without changing the part number and apparently without notifying anyone else at GM. Keeping the same part number delayed detection of the defect for years, the Valukas report concluded.
DeGiorgio has since claimed that he doesn’t remember making the 2006 change. McCaskill compared DeGiorgio during today’s hearing to Sgt. Schultz from the 1960s’ TV sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes.” The character was an inept German soldier known for the catchphrase “I hear nothing, I see nothing, I know nothing.”
Delphi Automotive CEO Rodney O'Neal told the Senate panel that GM was responsible for approving the faulty ignition switch that has been linked to at least 13 deaths.
“GM knowingly approved a final design that included less torque than the original target,” O’Neal said in prepared written testimony he presented to members of the subcommittee. Later he added: “Our product met the requirements of the customer.”
It's the first time an executive at Delphi, which was formerly owned by GM, has publicly commented on the switches and related recall crisis that has rocked GM for months.
Barra agreed that Delphi shared no responsibility for the problem because it was GM’s duty to ensure the part worked in the vehicle correctly.
“We’re the company that’s responsible to integrate the parts in the vehicle, so it’s our responsibility,” Barra said.
So far, GM has attributed 13 deaths and 54 crashes to the specific defect, in which the ignition switch can slip from the “run” position to the “accessory” position, causing the engine to stall, airbags not to deploy, and a loss of power brakes and power steering.
O’Neal said Delphi has four manufacturing lines operating to make replacement ignition switches under the GM recall. He said Delphi has shipped more than one million new switches and is on track to deliver more than two million by the end of August.