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Safety Advocates Claim GM Cut Costs with Cheaper Ignition Switch

In a letter to CEO Mary Barra, heads of the NHTSA and the Center for Auto Safety allege the company chose not to use a more effective spring in the ignition switches of 2003 Chevrolet Cobalts because of the expense of the new part.

Joan Claybrook, former head of the NHTSA, and Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, claimed that opting for the redesigned spring would have cost GM too much money and the company elected to use the smaller, cheaper part instead.

Claybrook said they now know that GM did, in fact, design an alternate part but chose the smaller and cheaper option. Claybrook and Ditlow feel that Barra would have been aware of the documents noting the 2006 change to the part’s design before testifying to Congress.

The letter demanded answers to the question of who decided GM would use the cheaper part and why that decision was made.

By Jeff Plungis and Jeff Green

April 16 (Bloomberg) -- General Motors Co. chose not to use a more robust ignition-switch part in Chevrolet Cobalts and other small cars while they were being designed, a decision that may have led to deaths, safety advocates said.

GM engineers in 2001 designed an alternative to the switch it used in the 2003 Saturn Ion before it was rejected, apparently for cost reasons, according to a letter sent to Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra today by Joan Claybrook, a former head of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.

“General Motors picked a smaller and cheaper ignition switch that cost consumers their lives,” Claybrook and Ditlow said. “Who inside GM made these decisions and at what level?”

GM’s handling of a defect now tied to 13 fatalities in accidents, after car engines lost power and air bags failed to deploy, is under investigation by NHTSA and both chambers of Congress. The largest U.S. automaker announced a charge of $1.3 billion for the recall-related repairs of 2.59 million cars in the first quarter.

An internal GM investigation led by Jenner & Block LLC Chairman Anton Valukas is looking into the issues Claybrook and Ditlow raise, James Cain, a GM spokesman, said in an e-mail.

“We are hoping that Mr. Valukas’s findings will be completed within the next 45-60 days,” Cain said.

GM rose 1.3 percent to $33.81 at 11:35 a.m. in New York.

Spring Swap

The drawing of a longer spring GM eventually adopted for the ignition switch in its 2008 model year Cobalt was included in documents released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee April 11. A chain of e-mails that explains GM’s part change in April 2006 shows the spring used was designed five years earlier.

The part change, approved by GM engineer Ray DeGiorgio, has become a focal part of investigations by Congress and NHTSA.

DeGiorgio authorized the change without setting a new part number, in violation of company protocol and accepted engineering practices, and then testified during a deposition that he hadn’t approved the switch, documents show.

Consumer complaints about the ignition key in the Cobalt, Ion and other models slipping out of the run position when bumped -- a defect later traced to a too-weak spring that didn’t meet GM specifications -- slowed after the part change.

Stouffer, Delphi

When GM changed the part in 2006, it “did not have to develop a new more robust design because GM engineers had already designed the safer switch that GM previously rejected in 2001,” Claybrook and Ditlow said.

The drawings of the two springs are part of an October 2013 e-mail exchange between a GM engineer, Brian Stouffer, and a member of the legal staff at the automaker’s parts supplier, Delphi Corp. Stouffer tried to find out why ignition switches in Cobalt sedans sold in 2008 were performing better than switches in older models. Delphi manufactured the ignition switch using a GM design.

The Delphi lawyer told Stouffer in the e-mail that DeGiorgio approved a design change for the ignition switch in 2006 that used a part with a longer spring, which made it work better.

GM said in a timeline sent to regulators earlier this year that at least some people in the company didn’t know about the design change that DeGiorgio approved until 2013.

Two Suspensions

Barra should have known about the documents identifying this alternative part before testifying to Congress, Claybrook and Ditlow said in the letter.

GM should make public all documents relevant to the decision to use a shorter, cheaper spring in 2001, Claybrook and Ditlow said.

DeGiorgio and another GM engineer, Gary Altman, were suspended by the Detroit-based automaker April 10, according to people familiar with the matter. The company announced they had put employees on paid leave over their roles in the recall without naming them.

Altman led the engineering team working on the Cobalt and rejected a part fix as too expensive.

Source: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-04-16/gm-said-to-reject-better-ignition-part-in-2001-to-save-money


Judge Brad Karren Injured in Bicycle Accident

The Honorable Brad Karren, a Nineteenth West Judicial Circuit Judge in Bentonville, Arkansas, was injured over the weekend while riding his bicycle with his son. According to a posting on his Facebook page, Judge Karren was riding on the Compton Gardens trails in Bentonville when he suffered an accident. He taken to Northwest Medical Center for treatment, and then airlifted to the Mercy Emergency Trauma Center in Springfield, Missouri.  

Judge Karren’s family provided an update on his condition Monday morning. The judge suffered fractures to his neck, but thankfully avoided any spinal cord or brain damage. Judge Karren was alert and in stable condition on Monday afternoon. He was waiting for placement of a comprehensive neck stabilization device which would support his fractured vertebrae, and is expected to be released from the hospital sometime this week.

The Honorable David Clinger will be covering Judge Karren’s cases and court schedule while he recovers. It is unknown when the judge will return to work on a full-time basis. 

 


How to Minimize the Effects of Arkansas Potholes

Arkansas’ roads may be free from snow, but as the precipitation melts a new danger rears its ugly head —potholes. They can damage your vehicle and cause major accidents. Crews from the Benton County Road Department have been working to repave the streets that are riddled with potholes, but Administrator Terry Nalley says there are so many it’s unlikely they will have the resources or the manpower to get to all the roads in time for fall.

“There’s going to be a lot of work that we’re going to be hard pressed to get everything done by September, October, when winter hits again,” Nalley said. “We have a full crew but we’re going to be real hard pressed because these roads have taken a toll this winter.”

If you must take a route with visible potholes, keep the following tips in mind to prevent as much damage as possible. You could even avoid an accident if you’re cautious enough.

Steering Clear

  • Leave room between your vehicle and the car in front of you. If you need to swerve to avoid a pothole it’s less likely you’ll cause an accident with more space;
  • If avoiding the pothole is impossible, slow down. Don’t stop over top of the pothole, as this can cause even  more damage to your vehicle;
  • Make sure your tires are properly inflated. Tires that are under-inflated could pop if they hit the jagged edge of a pothole;
  • Beware of puddles— that could mean a pothole is hidden below the water;
  • Brake lightly when traveling over a pothole rather than slamming on your brakes;
  • Hold the steering wheel firmly when driving over a pothole to avoid losing control;

How to Report Potholes

If you know of potholes in your area, share the information with state highway authorities to help others who may be traveling down the same stretch of road. Help other drivers expected the unexpected by giving Arkansas State Highway and Transportation officials a description of:

  • The pothole’s exact location
  • An approximate size of the pothole
  • Whether you saw or heard rainwater in the pothole

It is also helpful to ask whether the pothole is on a public transportation route. Hitting a pothole can cause a serious accident, and any tips you can provide highway and transportation authorities with regarding any potholes you know of is helpful.


Toyota Recalls over 6 Million Vehicles for Numerous Defects

Toyota Motor Corp. is recalling more than 6 million vehicles spanning nearly 30 models in the U.S., Japan and Europe for a variety of problems, ranging from air bags not deploying to driver's seats not locking properly.

The top-selling RAV4 SUV, Corolla, Yaris and Matrix are among the vehicles being recalled,

It comes on the heels of a similar recall from General Motors involving some 2.6 million vehicles for problems including defective ignition switches that might affect air bag deployment. Toyota reached a $1.2 billion settlement with the U.S. Justice Department last month for hiding defects in its vehicles, and it has paid more than $66 million in penalties for delaying the reporting of unintended acceleration problems.

For the latest Toyota recall, certain model years for these vehicles sold in the U.S. are included:

  • 2009-2010 Corolla
  • 2009-2010 Matrix
  • 2008-2010 Highlander
  • 2009-2010 Tacoma
  • 2006-2008 RAV4
  • 2006-2010 Yaris
  • 2008-2010 Scion xD

For all but the Scion models, Toyota says:

"The driver's airbag module in the involved vehicles is attached to a spiral cable assembly with electrical connections that could become damaged when the steering wheel is turned. If this occurs, the air bag warning lamp will illuminate. In addition, the driver's air bag could become deactivated, causing it to not deploy in the event of a crash.

"Toyota is not aware of any injuries or fatalities caused by this condition."

For the Scion and the Yaris, Toyota says there's also a problem with the driver's seat locking mechanism:

"In the seat rail of the driver seat of the involved vehicles and also the front passenger seat of three-door models, the springs used for the mechanism which lock the seat rail in its adjusting positions could break. This can happen if the seat is adjusted forward and/or rearward with high frequency. If a seat rail spring breaks, the seat may not lock into the adjusted position. If the vehicle is operated with a broken seat rail spring, the seat could move in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury to the occupant."

The Associated Press says:

"Some vehicles were recalled for more than one problem. The recall cases total 6.76 million vehicles for 27 Toyota models, the Pontiac Vibe and the Subaru Trezia, produced from April 2004 through August 2013.

"The Pontiac Vibe, which is a General Motors Co. model, is also involved because Toyota and GM made cars at the same plant in California and the recalled model is the same as the Toyota Matrix. It was recalled for a problem with a spiral cable attached to an air bag. It is unrelated to a separate GM recall over ignition switches linked to at least 13 deaths.

"Subaru is partly owned by Toyota, and the model was the same as the Toyota Ractis."

USA Today reports that other problems with models sold outside the U.S. include:

  • Steering column brackets that may become loose or fail (760,000, Europe and Asia only)
  • Windshield wiper motor (160,000, Asia only)
  • Starter motor fire hazard (20,000, Asia only)

[Update at 12:30 p.m. ET: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said the Camry sedan was part of the U.S. recall. It is part of the recall outside North America.]

Source: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/04/09/300979813/after-gm-now-toyota-recalls-more-than-6-million-vehicles


General Motors’ CEO Prodded for Information at Congressional Hearing

A House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing was held Tuesday, April 1 to review what General Motors knew about the faulty ignition switches in vehicles it waited 10 years to recall.

The company’s CEO Mary Barra was grilled on numerous topics, from when the company knew of any issues and why they failed to act for so long to how she would handle employees who were involved in an alleged cover-up of information relating to the defects.

Barra referred to GM’s failure to fix the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt’s faulty ignition switch as “unacceptable,” and “very disturbing.”

"If that's the reason the decision was made, that is not acceptable. That is not the way we do business today,” she urged.GM recall infographic

At a Senate hearing on April 2, Barra was pressed further by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) about one GM engineer in particular who McCaskill accused on lying under oath in 2013. The alleged perjury stems from inconsistencies in the engineer’s statements about whether he was aware of a design change in the ignition switch. Under oath he said he was never told about the change, but documents uncovered by a congressional subcommittee showed he had signed off on the change himself.

Barra conceded that the engineer lied but noted that just because a part does not meet company specifications does not mean it is defective. When asked how many parts currently being used in GM vehicles do not meet company specifications, Barra claimed she did not have an exact number.

General Motors was is not the only organization under scrutiny in this investigation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is being criticized for possibly missing several opportunities to initiate a recall on the defective GM vehicles. Administrator Dave Friedman claimed GM had critical information about the defect which would have made it easier for the NHTSA to identify.

“Had this information been available, it’s likely NHTSA would have changed its approach to the issue,” Friedman said. Instead, the NHTSA never fully investigated the consumer complaints they received about GM vehicles stalling.

Barra confirmed at Wednesday’s hearing that GM has retained an attorney to oversee victims’ compensation for injury and wrongful death claims that resulted because of the ignition switch defect. She also noted that an internal investigation would be launched to determine who was involved in any fraudulent activities.

Barra noted it will take 30 to 60 days before a plan of action is set for victims’ compensation, but emphasized that a “new standard will be set” in the management of the issue. 


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