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 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
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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