Tag Archive | "ignition switch"

GM Ignition Switch Recall May Lead to Stricter Air Bag Regulations


Via Detroit Free Press

Here’s an unsettling fact about cars equipped with air bags: they don’t always deploy when drivers — or regulators — expect them to.

Thirteen people have died in crashes involving older GM cars with defective ignition switches. In each of those crashes, and in others in which occupants were injured, the air bags failed to deploy even after striking trees, guard rails or other objects.

Puzzled by these failures, federal safety regulators told Congress last month they believed the cars’ air bags should have worked for up to 60 seconds after the engine stalled. But GM has since told The Associated Press that regulators were mistaken: the cars only had enough reserve power to sense a crash and deploy the air bags for 150 milliseconds after the switch malfunctioned and cut off the car’s power.

General Motors is recalling 2.6 million small cars to fix the ignition switches. The National Highway Traffic Safety Agency is now scrambling to find out from other automakers and air bag suppliers how their air bags would function in similar situations.

Regulators, lawmakers and ordinary drivers are learning what auto engineers already know: These billowing white bags are actually very complex. After a crash, a car’s computer determines, in 15 to 20 milliseconds, where it was hit, what position the occupants are in and whether the 150-mile-per-hour speed of the air bag would do more harm than good. Then it deploys — or doesn’t. Every automaker programs them differently.

“It’s very complicated, the logic behind it. It makes it very, very difficult for an automaker or supplier to explain why it did or didn’t go off in a certain situation,” said Joe Nolan, senior vice president for vehicle research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a group funded by the insurance industry that performs crash tests and other research.

If an occupant is unbelted or very small, or the car is traveling very slowly, the air bag may not deploy because it could cause even more severe injuries. Depending on the angle, the side air bags may deploy but not the front ones. If a car is parked and turned off when it’s hit, the air bags won’t work.

GM’s switches created an unusual problem. Because of insufficient resistance, they moved from the “run” position into the “accessory” or “off” position while the car was moving, possibly due to a bump from the driver’s knee or the weight of a key chain. With the switch in that position, the engine stalled and the power steering and power brakes stopped working, making the car harder to control.

In a 2006 crash in Wisconsin, a Chevrolet Cobalt traveling at 71 mph suddenly stalled. Two seconds later — outside GM’s 150-millisecond window — it hit a clump of trees. The ignition was found in the “accessory” position and the air bags didn’t deploy. Two passengers died and the driver was severely injured.

GM says the air bags in newer cars would work for a slightly longer period of time if the ignition is off, but still less than a second.

If the engine had stalled while the ignition was still in the “run” position, the crash might have had a different outcome. In that situation, the air bags, steering, brakes and most other equipment would have had power for up to several hours depending on the amount of charge in the car’s battery, GM said.

A report on the crash, completed by a team from Indiana University that was hired by the government, said the air bags may not have deployed because the ignition moved out of position. But the report also noted two other reasons: The trees bent when the car hit them, so the impact may not have triggered the air bags. And none of the occupants was wearing a seat belt. Air bags are meant to supplement seat belts, not to replace them.

The report said further analysis would be necessary to figure out whether the air bags could go off if the ignition was in the “accessory” position. Seven years later, that analysis is finally being done.

In a statement to the AP, the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency said it is talking to car companies and air bag suppliers about how air bag performance relates to the position of the ignition. The agency says it will take “appropriate action” based on its findings. It didn’t specify what form that action could take, but the agency could make new rules governing how long air bags must work if power to the vehicle is cut.

Right now, federal regulations don’t govern when air bags must deploy or how much power they need. Automakers are only required to meet government standards for protection of dummies in a series of crash tests.

The lack of regulation is intended to promote innovation. A decade ago, for example, automakers unveiled advanced air bags that determine how much power to use based on occupants’ size and whether they’re wearing seat belts. But that also leads to a myriad of designs that are harder for safety regulators to track.

The government may have believed there was a 60-second window because GM tells emergency personnel to wait for 60 to 120 seconds after disabling the power in a vehicle to make sure the air bags have deployed. But that is simply out of an abundance of caution, the automaker said.

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GM Reassigns Executive Who Dealt With Ignition Switch Probe


Via Reuters

General Motors Co has reassigned an executive who dealt with U.S. safety regulators probing defective ignition switches linked to at least 13 deaths, as part of a restructuring meant to improve vehicle safety, the automaker said on Monday.

M. Carmen Benavides, director of field product investigations and evaluations and an executive who has worked closely with U.S. safety regulators in Washington, has been shifted to a new job in the Detroit automaker’s safety group, GM spokesman Greg Martin said.

Benavides, who is now director of safety improvement initiatives, was replaced by Brian Latouf.

Benavides’ name is on many documents in which GM responded to questions from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, including several in the recall of the faulty ignition switches. She also received an email last summer in which a top NHTSA official called GM “slow to communicate” and “slow to act” on details and recalls.

The Detroit News reported the reassignment last week.

Martin said the move was unrelated to the ignition switch recall and part of executive changes announced on April 22 that included splitting engineering into two groups and the retirement of engineering chief John Calabrese. GM said at the time that the restructuring was meant to improve vehicle safety and quality.

“Brian and Carmen will be undertaking important roles to support Jeff Boyer,” Martin said, referring to GM’s new global safety chief.

GM global product development chief Mark Reuss said last month more changes in the structure of his organization, which includes responsibility for engineering and recalls, were coming.

GM has recalled 2.6 million cars, including Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions, because the defective ignition switches are prone to being jostled into accessory mode while the cars were moving. That would shut off engines and disable power steering, power brakes and airbags.

In addition to its own internal probe of how it handled the problem switches, which company engineers first noticed in 2001, the automaker is facing investigations by NHTSA, Congress, the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and a number of states.

NHTSA has voiced frustration with GM to Benavides in the past. Frank Borris, head of NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation, said in a July 2013 email to Benavides the company was more difficult to work with than other automakers, citing six instances in which the agency disagreed with GM on safety issues. It was the same email in which he criticized the automaker as “slow to communicate” and “slow to act.”

GM has placed two engineers linked to the faulty switch on paid leave as its internal probe continues. In addition to the exit of Calabrese, long-time engineer Jim Federico, who oversaw an earlier internal probe of the problems caused by the defective part, also recently retired. Federico joined motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson Inc as vice president of engineering.

GM has said the two retirements were not related to the defective ignition switch.

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GM Crash Victim’s Family Files New Lawsuit, Claims Company Lied


Via Reuters

A Georgia couple who settled with General Motors Co last year over their daughter’s fatal car crash linked to a faulty ignition switch has filed a new lawsuit against the automaker.

In a complaint filed in state court in Marietta, Georgia, on Monday, Ken and Beth Melton accused GM of fraudulently concealing critical evidence and allowing a company representative to lie under oath.

They claimed that a lead design engineer for Cobalt ignition switches repeatedly testified that he did not know of any design change to the switches, and that GM affirmed those statements.

The company’s recent disclosures to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Congress have revealed those assertions to be false, the Meltons’ lawyers said in a statement announcing the lawsuit on Monday.

“The Meltons would not have settled their case if they had known of the perjury and concealment of critical evidence,” said the couple’s attorney, Lance Cooper.

GM is facing dozens of lawsuits over the faulty ignition switch that has led to the recall of some 2.6 million vehicles.

The defective switch is prone to being jostled into accessory mode while the cars are moving, shutting off engines and disabling power steering, power brakes and airbags. The problem has been linked to at least 13 deaths.

A GM spokesman said in an emailed statement that the company “denies the assertion that GM fraudulently concealed relevant and critical facts in connection with the Melton matter.”

The company denied it engaged in any improper behavior in that lawsuit, he added.

Brooke Melton, 29, died in March 2010 after the ignition switch on her 2005 Cobalt slipped into accessory mode and she collided with another vehicle.

Melton’s parents settled their original legal claims against GM in September 2013.

On April 11, after GM issued its recall, the Meltons asked the company to rescind their settlement, but it refused.

At least two other families who reached out-of-court settlements with GM over fatal crashes have said they are considering trying to overturn the agreements, after the company disclosed that it had known about the issue for years.

To undo a settlement, plaintiffs would have to convince a judge that they were intentionally misled or defrauded by the other party, according to legal experts.

The case is Melton et al v. General Motors, State Court of Cobb County, Georgia, No. 14A1197-4.

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U.S. Government: No Need For Recalled GM Cars to be Pulled Off The Road


Via Reuters

The U.S. Department of Transportation has rebuffed a call by two Democratic senators to advise owners of 2.6 million recalled General Motors cars to stop driving them until they are repaired.

In letters sent on Tuesday to Senators Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx wrote that “such an action is not necessary at this time.”

It could take months for GM to replace faulty ignition switches in Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other models that have been linked to at least 13 deaths.

Foxx said the department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “is satisfied that for now,” until the repairs are made, the safety risk posed by the ignition switch defect is mitigated by GM’s recommendation that the cars be operated with only the key in the ignition switch and no other keys or fobs attached.

The added weight is thought to cause the switches to turn from the “on” position to an “accessory” position that causes car engines to turn off. It also has resulted in air bags not deploying in crashes and power steering and brakes not operating as intended.

In a statement reacting to the agency’s decision, Blumenthal and Markey said, “We remain extremely concerned that GM and NHTSA are not doing enough to convey the seriousness of this defect to owners of the affected cars, unnecessarily putting more lives at risk.”

The senators have voiced concerns about GM’s warning that driving over rough roads also could cause the recalled cars to turn off.

Foxx noted that GM has tested the cars over a variety of conditions, including potholes, panic stops and angled railroad crossings. He said NHTSA reviewed GM’s tests “and believes the information supports GM’s position that the subject vehicles are safe to operate” provided the ignition key is not attached to other items.

Two committees of Congress are investigating why it took GM more than a decade after discovering a safety problem to recall vehicles.

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