GM puts 2 engineers on paid leave in recall case

Fallout from faulty ignitions begins.
Associated Press
Apr 10, 2014

 

General Motors has suspended two engineers with pay in the first disciplinary action linked to its delayed recall of more than 2 million small cars for a deadly ignition switch problem.

The move stems from GM's internal investigation of the matter. At congressional hearings last week, lawmakers alleged that at least one company engineer tried to cover up the switch problem. GM CEO Mary Barra promised action against anyone deemed to have acted inappropriately.

GM, in a statement Thursday, said the engineers were placed on leave after a briefing from former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas, whom GM has hired to figure out why it took more than a decade to recall the cars. GM says at least 13 people have been killed in crashes linked to the defective switch, but family members of those who died say the death toll is much higher.

Company spokesman Greg Martin would not identify the engineers.

"This is an interim step as we seek the truth about what happened," Barra said in the statement. "It was a difficult decision, but I believe it is best for GM."

GM is recalling 2.6 million compact cars worldwide, mostly Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions, to replace the switches. The Justice Department and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are investigating GM's slow response to the problem.

During a hearing last week, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., accused GM engineer Ray DeGiorgio of trying to cover up the switch problem. DeGiorgio said in a deposition last year for a lawsuit against GM that he never approved a change to the ignition switch. But McCaskill produced a document from 2006 showing he signed off on a replacement, but with the same part number. Failing to change a part number makes the part harder to track.

Lawmakers were also critical of a decision made within GM's engineering ranks to not implement a proposed fix for the switch because it would be too costly and time-consuming.

Barra acknowledged at the hearing that DeGiorgio still works for GM. She called the failure to change the part number "unacceptable." She also said if inappropriate decisions were made, GM would take action, including firing those involved.

On Thursday, McCaskill said in a statement that "it's about time" GM took action.

"This marks a small step in the right direction for GM to take responsibility for poor — and possibly criminal —decisions that cost lives and put millions of American consumers at risk," she said.

GM would not make DeGiorgio available for an interview. He did not return telephone messages left by The Associated Press. A recording on DeGiorgio's work voicemail says he's away from the office and refers business calls to two other GM employees.

Also Thursday, GM announced a program to recognize employees who speak up when they see something that could affect the safety of customers. "GM employees should raise safety concerns quickly and forcefully, and be recognized for doing so," Barra said in the statement.

The ignition switches on the small cars can unexpectedly slip out of the "run" position to "accessory" or "off." That shuts off the engine and the power-assisted steering and brakes and can cause drivers to lose control of their cars. It also disables the air bags. In many of the crashes, drivers have inexplicably veered off the road or into traffic.

Parts to begin fixing the cars are to start arriving at dealerships on Friday. But Barra has said it likely will take until October before all the cars are repaired.

Shares of GM rose 10 cents, or 0.3 percent, to $33.72 in Thursday afternoon trading.

 

Comments

dorothy gale

What's with this "paid leave" $h!t? Paid leave is NOT a punishment, it is called a VACATION!

Factitious

Wrong problem. They're scapegoats.

This is a system problem, for which upper management is responsible.

In this industry, engineers responsible for the various modules of the vehicle, and their bosses, are sometimes allowed all too cozy relationships with the vendors of the parts and assemblies.

Pile onto that a legal system in which an incremental improvement can e tantamount to an admission that the prior design was defective. That's why Ford refused to fix a screw that was too long while Pinto gas tanks continued to explode.

But this is not such a cut-and-dried case. Even a perfect switch of this sort, whatever that is, can be accidentally turned off. And an occupied car, even with the engine off, needs functioning air bags, in case it is struck by another vehicle, so why does the switch turn them off? Can the problem of potential battery drain not be dealt with?

This case has the stink of partisan politics and a little "gotcha" for the GM bailout.

Justwow

Fu Gm. I am buying Ford.

Licorice Schtick

That might be a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Maybe you can find a nice used Pinto. Check Consumer Reports reliability data before you make you final decision. GM is WAY ahead of Ford these days.

O'Heritage

What hogwash. GM is a dying company. Their engineering and styling are still stuck in the 1990's. Their electric car was a total failure. The only GM line that is worthwhile is Buick. If it weren't for Obama and his socialist bailouts, GM would be dead already.

Ford is the only auto company that didn't take a bailout, because they didn't have to!

The Big Dog's back

Ford didn't have to because GM and Chrysler took the hit. They all use the same suppliers.

doglegright

How could it only be two engineers? Why don't they put another five engineers on leave instead of addressing the real problems: Steven Rattner, Wagoner or Barra?

2cents's picture
2cents

The business is cut throat, blame engineering LOL !

You could just as well blame the buyers for telling engineering what they are going to pay for the part, blame the EPA for demanding better gas mileage and lighter vehicles, blame the stock holders for wanting a better return, or just blame the end user for wanting that lower cost. The whole world has become a throw away society so why make anything worth a crap that will be good and last. And trust me signing off on something is not the engineers responsibility, in my small company I have a quality manager that takes care of all the documentation, they are the ones that verify the quality, testing and all that goes with it. Engineering can make anything on any level of quality, but only if they are allowed to!

KURTje

Hey blame the Unions........ e.r.

AnyMajDude

Scapegoats - These guys will get early retirements and will fade away. The real question is why aren't criminal charges being brought against the GM & Delphi executives that had responsibility for these components and vehicles. These people are responsible for deaths. Make them accountable for their responsibility !!!!

coasterfan

Meh... I'm going to stick with my Prius. We got 68 mpg on a trip last night. We traded in our Chevy Equinox, which was advertised to receive 30 mpg, which was an obvious overstatement. The only time my Equinox would get anywhere near 30mpg was when we were going downhill with the wind at our backs. Most of the time, 18-24mpg was more like it.

I agree w/ AnyMajDude, there should be prison time for the GM heads who are responsible.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

I agree, I much prefer my Prius

ohioengineer

Anyone who has spent time in the workplace quickly learns that the "morality" of a company is set from the top - whether it is a two-person bakery or a Fortune 500 automobile manufacturer. There are firms where questions and even dissent are encouraged and others where you keep your head down and your mouth shut.

Under a true free-enterprise system, the marketplace will deal harshly with those companies that chose the path of secrecy and deceit as this unhealthy culture will influence their products and drive customers away. This is what should have happened to GM, but instead our government decided that GM was too politically important to fail and used our tax dollars to prop up this sick and corrupt giant. (I find it interesting how quickly the media has forgotten this little fact in their rush to cover this story of big, bad business.)

As is so often the case when government gets involved where it has no business, the result is chaos. We now have the same politicians who saved GM from the economic trash heap trying to investigate that same company. Good luck with that!

When the dust settles from this "investigation" there will be a few more scapegoats thrown to the wolves like these two engineers. But there will be no serious reform, as GM and the government have made their bed together and nothing will change that. The losers, as usual, will be the American consumer and taxpayer.

The Big Dog's back

Do you feel the same about Ford?

ohioengineer

Ford certainly has its own problems and its hands are not clean when it comes to government bailouts. However, my issue is not so much with the car companies, but the ever-increasing involvement of government in private business.

LabMan

How could this happen with TS 16945, APQP, PPAP,FMEA,MSA,SPC,etc. in place ?

2cents's picture
2cents

You forgot IMDS. How does China make auto parts on dirt floors? Paperwork can be forged just like Obama care can fool the masses!