Recent documents reveal General Motors opted for a cheaper, substandard ignition switch when presented with two different design options for the part, which was to be installed on the 2003 Saturn Ion. Autoblog reports one drawing submitted of the switch contained a longer detent spring and plunger with greater torque, while another showed a shorter spring and plunger, which made it easier for the switch to move between “run” and “accessory” positions.
The documents don’t tell what motivated executives to decide against the first design, but the consequences of opting for the lower quality switch have hit GM hard in recent months. The part has been linked to at least 32 crashes which have resulted in 13 deaths. The spring in the shorter switch was 9.6 millimeters in length, while the spring in the longer one was 12.3 millimeters, the documents revealed. The Center for Automotive Safety, which first realized the differences between the two drawings, has since sent a letter GM CEO Mary Barra, asking if she had been briefed about the differences in the parts prior to Congressional hearings on the matter held earlier this month.
Clarence Ditlow, the executive director of the CAS, along with former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Joan Claybrook, have requested Barra release all documents that might reveal why the decision to select the switch utilizing the shorter detent spring and plunger was made.
In the letter, the pair said that the documents “paint a tragic picture of the cost culture and cover up at General Motors. The conclusion we draw from examining the two different designs of the ignition switches under consideration in 2001 is that General Motors picked a smaller and cheaper ignition switch that cost consumers their lives and saved General Motors money.”
GM spokesperson Greg Martin told Autoblog Wednesday that all of the questions presented by Ditlow and Claybrook will be addressed once the internal investigation on the matter, being conducted by former Lehman Brothers investigator Anton Valukas, is complete. The investigation is expected to conclude within 45 to 60 days.