In a memo released on Sunday by the House of Representatives Energy
and Commerce Committee, documents provided by GM and a federal
regulator provided "unsettling" information, according to Republican
Representative Tim Murphy, who leads a subcommittee of the panel.
The memo was released ahead of Tuesday's testimony from GM Chief
Executive Mary Barra, who will appear at the committee's first
public hearing on the recalls. She is likely to be asked why it took
GM so long to identify and address the ignition switch problem.
The information from Delphi officials was detailed in the memo,
which is mainly a chronology of actions taken by GM and the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration since the late 1990s and
through Friday, when GM expanded its global recall of cars with
defective ignition switches to 2.6 million.
GM switches in Chevrolet Cobalts and other models were prone to
being bumped or jostled into accessory mode while cars were moving,
which would shut off engines and disable power steering, power
brakes and airbags, leading to dozens of crashes.
Delphi told U.S. congressional investigators last week that GM
approved the original part in 2002, despite the fact it did not meet
Congressional investigators also want to know what led NHTSA, as
long ago as 2007 and 2010, to determine that there was not a safety
defect trend with airbags that were failing to deploy in Chevrolet
"What did NHTSA do to investigate whether a trend existed? What data
did it consider," the committee asked.
The Energy and Commerce Committee said GM had submitted more than
200,000 documents on the ignition switches. The panel said the NHTSA
submitted about 6,000 documents.
Murphy, a Pennsylvania Republican, did not give details on what was
"unsettling" about the information the panel received. His statement
was accompanied by the memo, prepared by Republican investigators.
According to one entry of the chronology in the memo, officials of
Delphi, which supplied the ignition switches to the recalled GM
cars, told committee investigators that GM had approved the part,
even though sample testing of the ignition switch torque was below
the original specifications set by the automaker.
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The committee, according to aides, does not know GM's thinking on
why it may have approved a part that did not meet all
One aide, who asked not to be
identified, noted that there were 60 specifications for the switch and it is not
clear what the significance is of one specification being below-standard. That
is one of the questions the committee intends to ask in hearings.
GM knew as early as 2001 that it was
facing problems with its ignition switch, but no auto recalls were ordered until
earlier this year.
A February 2005 entry in the
congressional committee's chronology illustrates that engineers were grappling
with what to do about the defective ignition switches.
"Engineers considered increasing or
changing the ignition switch 'torque effort,' but were advised by the ignition
switch engineer that it is 'close to impossible to modify the present ignition
switch' as the switch is 'very fragile and doing any further changes will lead
to mechanical and/or electrical problems.'"
The committee's memo concludes with a
series of questions, which likely will dominate Tuesday's hearing with Barra.
"Why did GM approve ignition switches
that did not meet its specifications for torque performance? What was GM's
assessment of the implications for performance and safety," the memo asked.
It is also not clear yet which GM
engineer approved a revision to the ignition switch in 2006, and why the change
did not lead to an earlier recall of older model cars to fix the problem.
(Editing by Jim Loney, Peter Cooney, Frances Kerry and Eric Walsh)
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