Detroit, MI, United States (4E) – General Motors Co. announced Thursday it suspended two engineers with pay as part of its ongoing internal investigation into the delayed recalled of cars with defective ignition switch.
GM CEO Mary Barra said the suspension of the two engineers was an interim step in the company’s quest to find out why the recall was not made as early as 2001, when the ignition flaw was learned in a pre-production Saturn Ion model. The ignition switches can be jostled out of the “run” position into the “accessory” position while driven and that shuts down the engine and deactivates air bags.
The carmaker did not name the engineers but sources familiar with the investigation said they were Gary Altman and Ray DeGiorgio, whom congressional investigators suspect as having lied about the defective switches linked to accidents that caused at least 13 deaths.
Altman was chief engineer on the Chevrolet Cruze diesel last year and was program engineering manager on the Chevrolet Cobalt through May 2005. DeGiorgio was the project engineer responsible for the ignition switch on the Saturn Ion and Cobalt.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said the suspension of the engineers was about time since they were still on the job in a role with a direct impact on the safety of GM cars during last week’s congressional hearing on the delayed recall. McCaskill had accused DeGiorgio of lying in a deposition last year by not acknowledging he had signed off on the changing of the defective switches in April 2006 when a GM document showed he signed off on it.
In the June 2013 deposition made as part of a lawsuit filed against GM over the death of 29-year-old Brooke Melton in a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt accident, Altman mentioned the solution of changing the long key slot to a small hole to give heavy key rings less leverage to turn the switch off.
In documents GM provided to the House Energy and Commerce committee, DeGiorgio signed off on a Delphi ignition switch change on April 26, 2006. But his April 2013 deposition for the Melton case said GM did not approve a design change in 2006.
Meanwhile, Barra announced the launch of a GM program that encourages employees to suggest ideas that make car safer and blow the whistle on defects. The program called Speak Up for Safety aims to promote a culture of safety in the company in response to the delayed recall controversy.