New ignition switch foulup for GM: Failure to change part number widens

DETROIT, Mich. (DETROIT FREE PRESS) -- General Motors redesigned even more ignition switches on more models without changing the part number, according to a letter the automaker sent this week to government regulators.

The gist of this latest disclosure is that an undetermined number of the defective ignition switches likely remained in circulation among dealers who may have installed them in cars that didn't originally have the problem.

On some of the additional vehicles, GM engineers modified the ignition switches as early as 2004, as stated in a July 16 letter from Brian Latouf, GM director of product safety investigations, to Nancy Lewis, associate administrator for enforcement with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

As with 2.6 million recalled Chevrolet Cobalts, HHRs, Saturn Ions, Skys, Pontiac G5s and Solstices, engineers tried to increase the torque required to move the ignitions from the "on" to "accessory" position. A significant number of owners complained that their ignitions were inadvertently slipping, cutting off power to the engine and air bags.

GM has reported that 13 deaths and more than 50 crashes are tied to the defect. It also has replaced about 20% of the ignition switches that were recalled. The company also has urged owners of the cars to use only that vehicle's key and avoid heavy key chains until their cars are repaired.

The initial ignition switch recall happened on Feb. 13, more than 11 years after GM learned of a customer complaint of intermittent shutoffs in a 2003 Pontiac Grand Am from a Michigan dealer. That recall, and subsequent ones that now cover more than 20 million vehicles sold in North America, led GM CEO Mary Barra to fire 15 employees, NHTSA to fine GM the maximum $35 million for failing to report the problem sooner, four congressional hearings, at least three investigations and GM's creation of an uncapped fund to compensate victims killed or injured in crashes caused by the defect.

Barra has testified that failing to change the number of a part that has been redesigned "violates Engineering 101."

The additional vehicles affected by this disclosure include the Chevrolet Malibu, Pontiac Grand Am and Oldsmobile Alero from model year 2003 and earlier. The vehicles identified in the filing are among an additional 7.6 million the company flagged on June 30 for ignition-related issues.

Because the part number wasn't changed, "it is possible that the old switch was used to service vehicles," GM's letter stated.


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