By on April 17, 2014

 

DSC_9144
The House Energy & Commerce Committee recently released the documents GM submitted for investigation, which includes emails and internal reports documenting GM’s response to reports of their early Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion models inadvertently shutting the car “off” while driving due to an ignition cylinder that was, simply, too easy to turn out of the “run” position; and in the case of several accidents, allowed the ignition cylinder to rotate out of the run condition before or during accidents, causing the airbags to not deploy when required.

The documents, totaling 619 pages (some with repeat info), reveal just how deep seated “old GM” was in their cost cutting ways (Driving down supplier costs to the point of sacrificing quality, admittedly poorly designed ignition cylinder, and removing internal quality control on the parts), and just how blind sided “new GM” was during their investigations. It also confirms how suspended engineers Ray DeGiorgio and Gary Altman were involved in the ignition switch response, and fuzzy problem solving. Full text and an analysis of key documents below.

We already know the basics of how this happened, but it’s still surprising just how ingrained GM was in putting the issue aside. The key issues are these:

  • GM became aware of the ignition issue in the 2001 preproduction Saturn Ion and the 2005 preproduction Chevrolet Cobalt.
  • Gary Altman initiated the report that lead to the insert, and Ray DeGiorgio consulted on the fix and argued against ignition switch changes.
  • Many different options were proposed, including suggestions from Delphi.
  • Cost played a major role in the decision to not recall the ignition switch early on.
  • The later key insert was the result, and was seen not as a fix, but as a “containment.”
  • GM also had very little oversight on parts from Delphi, only relying on Delphi’s incomplete testing.
  • GM’s engineers knowingly put the cars to market with a defective ignition switch.
  • This lead to ISB #05-02-35-007.
  • In 2006, DeGiorgio eventually signed off on design changes for Delphi, that included a stronger spring and plunger for the detent mechanism in the ignition cylinder, which provides a physical resistance between the different key positions.
  • When implemented in 2007, the new ignition cylinders cost less than a dollar per unit more than the original design; $400,000 to retool the production lines. These are the same changes that were deemed “not an acceptable business case” in 2005
  • As company, however, no one knew who signed off on the change until the Melton family lawsuit.
  • In court, DeGiorgio testified that he was unaware of changes to the ignition cylinder that would have effected the detents, only mentioning the key change..
  • Later investigations showed that the Cobalt had a substantial number of airbag warranty claims.
  • Higher level GM representatives broadsided by NHTSA’s investigations and disapproval of their slow reaction to other recent recalls.

First up, Gary Altman’s and Ray Giorgio’s role in the ignition cylinder issue is a problem. In court, Altman claimed that he did not feel that the Melton’s car was “unsafe.” This coming after submitting the initial mechanical complaint about the ignition falling out of run, in 2004:

docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf
During the investigation, several different approaches to modify the ignition cylinder were brought up to DeGiorgio. All of which were quickly dismissed by DeGiorgio, because the switch was already “very fragile,”

docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf (1)
Later on, all fixes were dropped, as it wasn’t deemed necessary. With a tight deadline and budget, the engineers could not justify any of the fixes at the time, as it wasn’t an “acceptable business case.”

docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf (2) docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf (3) docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf (4)

In 2006, DeGiorgio finally signed off on a design change for Delphi. The design change included  a stronger spring and longer detent plunger to increase the force needed to switch the key between different positions, along with an unrelated electrical upgrade. In an unexplained move, DeGiorgio did not assign a new part number to the improved switch design. The design change added 90 cents to the parts cost, and about $400,000 in tooling costs.

 

cobalt report 3
docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD047.pdf (1)

But, with this large of a role in the decision to delay the redesigned ignition switch, DeGiorgio claimed that he was not aware of any mechanical changes to the switches during his testimony in the Melton family suit against GM:

docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD056.pdf
Though, he did sign off on the changes, and worked with Delphi to test batches of ignition cylinders that contained an upgraded PCB (Printed Circuit Board), and detent plunger:

cobalt report 14

democrats.energycommerce.house.gov sites default files documents GM-Commodity-Validation-Sign-Off-2006-4-26.pdf

 

Curiously enough, though, is that GM had very little oversight on Delphi’s quality control, and Delphi did not check the rotational torque needed to turn past the switches detents. GM simply accepted Delphi’s parts and trusted their QC. But with rumored tensions between GM and Delphi, it’s said that cost cutting measures might be to blame as GM forced Delphi to push prices down, sacrificing parts quality. If this were true, GM’s choice to outsource QC to the supplier left them in the dark for too long, preventing them from seeing the immediate effects of their problems with Delphi:

cobalt report 4cobalt report 18

While this was going on, GM released the key insert as a “containment solution;” it would be the minimum needed to alleviate the problem for effected customers. This was chosen over two other modifications to the ignition cylinder, which were seen as a “partial solution” in the case of adding an additional detent mechanism to add more resistance to rotating the key out of “run,” and a “sure solution” involving moving the ignition switch higher up on the column, using a gear drive system to reach the rotary switch responsible for selecting which electrical circuit to run on. The added gearing would also increase rotational torque, the design stated.
cobalt report 11
cobalt report 12cobalt report 13
In 2007, the NHTSA began to probe into the surprising number of airbag-related complaints, despite “GM’s indications that they see no specific pattern.”
cobalt report 15

The issue was set aside, for the most part, until GM was informed by the Melton suit that there was a possible design change in the switch, based on an investigation into junkyard-found switches from the effected models. The testing showed that there was a noticeable change in detent torque, but no documentation from GM to show the changes. The GM engineers and representatives in the case were caught off guard by this design change, and began an internal investigation. This investigation lead GM engineer Brian Stouffer to find the documents that showed DeGiorgio signing off on design changes with no part number change.

cobalt report 5cobalt report 16
Finally, the most impressive point of this story comes from GM’s reactions to the NHTSA’s investigations. The NHTSA emailed GM asking for clarification on several other recalls, documenting GM’s reactions to other product issues with a disdain for GM’s penchant for doing the least amout possible to avoid full recalls; ie: regional recalls for parts failures in the rust-belt states. Saying that some were broadsided by this information would be an understatement:

cobalt report 19[...]
cobalt report 19

The response by Mike Robinson, VP for environment, energy and safety policy, sums up GM’s perception and confusion over their responses to the Cobalt issue, and several other poor recall responses in the past. “This note from NHTsA, both the content and tone, comes like a bolt out of the blue,” he states, “We worked way too hard to earn a reputation as the best and we are not going to let this slide.”

cobalt report 19
To summarize, GM is its own worst enemy. They responded poorly to incredibly early reports, dismissing the issue too quickly as a casual problem. With reports going back to 2001, during the Saturn Ion development, there is no reason why the switch should have come unmodified to the Cobalt development; never mind the dismissal of the problem before the car was produced. Ray DeGiorgio’s role in this problem is larger than he initially lead on in the Melton case, though his motive in this discrepancy is unknown at this time.

Full text to all 619 pages can be find here.

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135 Comments on “Too Big To Fail, Too Confused To Operate: Analysis Of 619 Pages Of Cobalt Engineering Documents [w/ Full Text]...”


  • avatar
    Hummer

    Meanwhile at rencen
    “See the problem isn’t our switch, the problem is that people are supposed to wait AFTER the airbag to go off before turning the car off. I don’t get the commotion, just tell people to wait a couple seconds.”

    • 0 avatar
      Z71_Silvy

      “See the problem isn’t our switch,”

      That part you got right. There really isn’t anything wrong with the switch. 13 deaths and 31 crashes over ~3,000,000+ vehicles is almost a non-existent probability.

      There has been far more deaths and incidents for far more serious issues that have gone unnoticed.

      This is CLEARLY a witch hunt for GM.

      It would be nice for someone in the media with a backbone to investigate the crashes that have occurred and find out what role the driver played in this…were they drunk? Distracted? Wearing a seat belt? An incompetent driver?

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Excellent journalism, Phillip.

    This whole story is starting to feel like the Kennedy assassination with all of the twists, turns, and whodunits.

    Back, and to the left…

  • avatar
    gtrslngr

    Actually … if we’re going to be ” Truthful ” when it comes to GM in general [ pun intended ]

    ” Too Big to Fail ” is in fact a bit of a misnomer when being used in relation to GM

    ” Too Big to Get Out of its Own Freaking Way ” being much closer to the ” Truth ”

    Lets face it . Like it or not . GM has become a Dinosaur constantly stepping on its own tail [ for the last three decades I might add ] and too stupid to realize it . The only thing the bailouts accomplishing being delaying the inevitable as well as prolonging the pain and make damn sure most of that pain falls upon the consumer/tax payer / mid to low level GM employees

    • 0 avatar
      ultramatic

      I think in this case some pain may justifiably be visited upon certain “mid to low level GM employees”. Though lax corporate culture is partially to blame, we should not underestimate the importance of personal ethics and responsibility. When a few bad apples mix with a rotten culture, there’s no limit to the damage that can be done (see Enron for extreme example).

    • 0 avatar
      jpolicke

      You’ve actually said something I can agree with.

      At least after going through its bankruptcy and being handed off to FIAT, the quality of Chrysler products has noticeably, dramatically improved, reflecting a change in management commitment. (NOT going to get into a you-know-what contest here about subjective areas such as styling or comfort.) I fail to detect any similar change in GM attitude.

      • 0 avatar
        SayMyName

        Only surface quality (materials, design) has improved on the Fiatslers, and most of those improvements were actually started under Cerberus. Mechanicals, especially those sourced from Fiat (like the trouble-plagued 1.4 turbo) remain HIGHLY suspect.

        As for GM… the company’s f***ing hopeless, and it seems with each passing day we are shown new reasons why it should have been killed in 2009.

        • 0 avatar
          Z71_Silvy

          Funny…none of that is true about either company. Nice try though

          • 0 avatar
            SayMyName

            I’m only going to waste my time with you once. Read, do the math, and learn.

            http://www.autonews.com/article/20121126/OEM03/311269944/can-car-plastic-be-artful-yes-says-klaus-busse-who-helped-revive

            http://www.dodge-dart.org/forum/dodge-dart-mechanical-problems/

          • 0 avatar
            Z71_Silvy

            Right…because an internet forum (where people to sing praises about their vehicles right?) is solid proof.

            And the new interiors are fantastic. Probably the best of the big 3.

            So, once again, you’re completely wrong.

  • avatar
    TheyBeRollin

    Great post. I haven’t seen anything as thorough about this situation anywhere else…

    This smells of the chronic understaffing of Engineering departments everywhere and the proliferation of MBAs (I worked in new product R&D for years (different market) and was involved in many meetings.). First, there’s no way to remember everything you did five or more years ago. Second, more often than not, you’ll endure the scrutiny of every penny by an MBA that intimidates you into signing off on changes that will reduce cost to the detriment of functionality or reliability.

    Many of these decisions to pad the bottom line for a quarter (so the managers get their bonuses) ultimately resulted in recalls that cost many times more than it would have to simply do it right in the first place.

    It’s terrible that people died as a result of this one.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      Terrifically insightful comment, Rollin. Thank you.

    • 0 avatar
      gtrslngr

      Yup ! Bean Counters rule the roost – call the shots and are the ultimate if not the only authority in the majority of todays corporate world … but especially at GM . The only ” Higher Authority ” being the Board which is made up of high level investors who’s only priority/agenda is the padding of their back pockets …. consumer welfare be damned . Hell … even CEO’s these days are for the most part Celebrity Figureheads / Talking heads with little or no actual authority . Well excepting Mary Bara who in reality’s only purpose is that of the Corporate Scape Goat

    • 0 avatar
      wumpus

      Reminds me of the situation when I worked as an engineer in a defense contractor. We were all given an “employee ethics manual”: it was the ONE THING HR wanted back when you left. Nevermind keys, passwords, laptops, the first thing they demanded was that “ethics manual”. Never did figure out what they were hiding in there.

      The gist of the “ethics training” we were given was that as long as we weren’t specifically ordered to do something unethical, any lapses was specifically our fault. Any requirements not meant by ethical means were our fault. Any specific ethics problems (or specifically unethical orders) were to go to our ethics officer*. I have no idea if the company had specific plans for ignoring ethics or was simply terrified of DoD regulations and found a way to dump it on the minions, but it was a nasty situation.

      * If you heard about the exec who fired his wife to make it easier sleeping with his hot female subordinate, don’t bother telling the ethics officer (she is the hot female subordinate (now new wife. And exec is now company president). Note that ethics officer also handled security clearances.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      Sounds like that Ray DeGiorgio got caught with his hands on his nuts. Would the recall have come out of his department budget?

    • 0 avatar

      > Many of these decisions to pad the bottom line for a quarter (so the managers get their bonuses) ultimately resulted in recalls that cost many times more than it would have to simply do it right in the first place.

      The more interesting part of these cases is how the org bureaucracy (esp paperwork) is set up to provide plausible deniability to the right people, and assign blame to expendable pawns.

      Here, it seems GM is ready to let the engineers will take the fall, but that isn’t necessarily ideal since those people actually do productive work. Usually how it’s done is some easily replaceable clueless low level manager will be “responsible” for closing the loop on this issue.

      This isn’t so much a GM issue as general corp/org issue. The kind of folks good at this rise to the top. Frankly GM doesn’t seem too great at it anyway.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    This isn’t a conspiracy, this is an organization too disorganized to create one. GM’s org chart has always been a Byzantine mess, and the accountants have in most eras dictated to the product people. We see both of those dynamics at work here.

    I’m reminded of when the Explorer was the best-selling SUV in America, yet the industry’s biggest supplier of frames publicly renounced the business to make frames for the Explorer because Ford management was demanding a price so low that they declared they’d lose money on every frame. One of the biggest differences between the American makers and the Japanese transplants is the Japanese managerial emphasis on cooperation and long-term relationships between the automaker and its suppliers.

    Several years ago, an industry survey revealed that major US auto-component suppliers reported, if they were delivering the same part to a Detroit maker or a Japanese transplant company, they’d deliver a higher-quality part to the latter. In business as in life, how you treat people matters.

    And, of course, the evil unseen hand of the United Auto Workers somehow made all of GM’s mismanagement possible.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      The latter forced the beancounters into overdrive, although whose to say the culture would not have made the same poor decisions even without a weight around their necks.

      • 0 avatar
        gtrslngr

        If this were true . Then why is it the Germans with ALL their multitudes and levels of Unions do not have problems such as these ? Fact is .. US bean counters are the epitome of greed … blaming others [ the Unions making for an easy target ] in order to justify their actions . Fact is … GM has been a corrupt entity since day one

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Unions add on cost to both Domestic and European automakers no doubt, but most of the Euro marques are heavily exported and can make up the additional cost. Detroit absorbed this cost and made further cuts to product through beancounting in order to reduce losses or attempt to profit. If I had to guess I’d say the Germans don’t practice this as much because they can still profit despite their union costs.

          • 0 avatar

            > Detroit absorbed this cost and made further cuts to product through beancounting in order to reduce losses or attempt to profit.

            Literally everyone else in the first world (eg the Japanese) absorbed that maybe few percent cost at most.

            Detroit just did worse in the other 97% of the car.

            Labor cost blaming in the auto industry is done by people who evidently have no idea how to compare simple numbers, which really puts their judgment on more complicated things into doubt.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I don’t have enough information to explain how Japanese assembled cars were profitable in the US, but its moot since most Asian marques now assemble their product in North America. Most product assembled in the US specifically enjoys at least two advantages, no unionization (as of now) and relatively predictable market share. The domestics responded by (1) surviving on truck profits, (2) moving some production to low cost assembly locations such as Mexico, (3) cutting product in order to remain somewhat competitive. I’m not here to say GM did not drop the ball (they did) or deny inferior culture/production methodology is a major factor, I’m arguing assuming all other things are equal the Asian marques have two distinct economic advantages over the domestics which the domestics struggled to compete against.

          • 0 avatar

            > I don’t have enough information to explain how Japanese assembled cars were profitable in the US

            Driving a 50k mile 80′s camry alongside any 50k 80′s domestic should make that obvious enough.

            The big 3 were basically oligopolies on the US market with every built-in advantage, and they just got run over by a superior product.

        • 0 avatar
          DC Bruce

          Ask anyone who owns a BMW made during the 2000-2006 period about their exploding cooling system: plastic expansion tank, plastic radiator tank, plastic water pump impeller . . . all guaranteed to fail after 60,000 miles. You think the decision to use plastic as opposed to metal parts wasn’t driven by cost considerations?
          Get real. “Value engineering” is an accepted practice and is o.k. if done right. The alternative is an early 80s Mercedes — a car designed by engineers without regard to cost. Why use one screw to hold on a part when 3 will do it a little better? To be sure, those cars gave Mercedes its now-undeserved reputation for indestructibility. But they were extraordinarily expensive.

    • 0 avatar
      gtrslngr

      Correction good sir ! The UAW has nothing what so ever to do with GM’s incompetency . Sure the UAW has problems galore of its own . But they have ZERO influence on the structure or organization of the companies they are embedded in .

      But just in case theres any Anti Union bias in your erroneous thinking ? Allow me to remind you the Germans [ especially Mercedes and BMW ] are thriving with full Union participation intact

      So place the blame where the blame belongs . Since actually GM’s very inception as a matter of fact . Smack dab on top of GM’s ever loving , self centered blind to the needs of the consumer and especially the well being of the US * .. shoulders

      * GM – In conjunction with Standard Oil forced lead to be introduced into gasoline despite EVERY scientist in the country stating clearly it was deadly in the short term [ for the workers involved ] as well as long term environmental damage ; Well before environmental had become a buzz word

      GM – In conjunction with Goodyear and again Standard Oil conspired to purchase almost every single source of Public Transportation across the US with with the sole intent of bankrupting them [ and they did ] in order to increase Tire – Automobile and Gas sales

      …. and on and on and … ad infinitum

      So yeah … GM has been …. and still is fully capable of planning and executing conspiracies intended to bolster their own profits at the expense of others

      • 0 avatar
        mitchw

        Good form today, Maestro. Missing you over at the ALD ranch. Why do you think Delphi didn’t say anything about not changing the part number?

        • 0 avatar
          gtrslngr

          @ mitchw .. the ALD Ranch couldn’t deal with my bluntness . Well that and T Bejma had me removed … with a little help from his minders as well as CTech .. hint hint .. wink wink ! Say howdy for me !

          As to Delphi ? IMO ? Because despite the paperwork they’re just as much a part of GM’s corporate structure as GM itself .

          • 0 avatar

            You really need to get over yourself if you think that anyone would go to the trouble of trying to remove you from a website comment section.

            You can take the credit for your multiple removals at ALD SOLELY based on your massive ego, bi-polar responses, and the fact that you simply offer not one iota of educated information being simply a member of the entertainment industry (and it appears that you are doing the exact same thing here as well, however, the tolerance here is much higher).

            Denial is a terrible thing…

      • 0 avatar
        Onus

        Finally a good post from you! Spot on.

        Thanks

        Don’t forget GM buying up street car systems around the country and replacing them with buses. That still bothers me to this day.

        • 0 avatar
          gtrslngr

          @ Onus – I did address the Street Car / Bus / Commuter Trains issue in the Public Transportation part of the comment . But thanks !

        • 0 avatar
          Willyam

          You know what (as long as we’re to the “airing of the grievances” part of the discussion) this bothers me to this day. My first car was a GM, and I guess I’ll always be a bit vulnerable to wanting more of them, but as an oft-Kansas City resident (whose family was involved in the incredible street/cable-car system aeons ago) I’m seriously put off by that particular bit of thuggery.
          Kansas City had the world’s steepest cable-car bridge for a while (9th street http://www.cable-car-guy.com/images/kc_9th_incline_002.jpg ). When the bricks and rails are visible during renovation of the streets (replaced with Missouri pavement, i.e. metal plates), you can get a bit verklempt.

          See “A Splendid Ride: The Streetcars of Kansas City”. The era ended in 1957 with replacement by GM Busses. Yea.

          • 0 avatar
            gtrslngr

            Willyam – As a former [ 5 years ] resident of KCMO myself I got to see first hand what remains of the incredible Trolley system as well as read up on all the history . And yeah …. GM killed them off just lie they did here in Denver etc etc . Only SF and to a lesser extent Seattle holding up to the GM/Goodyear/Standard Oil onslaught

            But to be honest … what offended me even more about GM’s history in KCMO is their current history of holding that KC suburb GM has a plant in for ransom . Constantly demanding more and more to the point of demanding they build GM a new paint shop . Not to bring in more jobs mind you . Just to maintain the status quo

            And yeah … my first car was a GM as well . But I’ve long since gotten over it

        • 0 avatar
          geeber

          Sorry, but whatever sins GM has committed, it is not responsible for the demise of street car service in this country. It was dying before GM came on to the scene. The “GM conspired to kill street car service” story is a myth.

          (For starters, the decision of the 1947 court case cited to “prove” this did not hold that GM conspired with other entities to replace street cars with buses. GM was found guilty of trying to force transit agencies to use GM-built buses instead of those built by competitors. The transit agencies were going to switch to buses, regardless of what GM did. GM was trying to force them to buy GM buses.)

          • 0 avatar
            gtrslngr

            @ geeber – Thou knowest not from what thou speak good sir

            READ .. the history ! It is a matter of historical FACT ! GM in combination with Standard Oil and Goodyear [ and to a lesser extend Firestone as well ] came in and purchased every bit of Public Transportation infrastructure they could snap up … sometimes with help from local politicians they bribed to aid them … and then promptly let all of them go to waste .. refusing to maintain or repair anything to the point of them all finally closing up shop

            Whereas … previous to GM & Co.s little escapade …though still recovering from the depression etc … ALL were financially viable profitable and well on their way to even greater success .

            And now …. thanks to GM & Co . We get to rebuild all that infrastructure they succinctly destroyed just so we can now lower our over dependency on the automobile … at a cost well in excess than it would of cost to maintain and evolve the original infrastructure to begin with

            Historical Fact good sir ! Not GM propaganda /rhetoric etc

          • 0 avatar
            geeber

            You’re wrong. Read this:

            http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2013/06/be-careful-how-you-refer-so-called-great-american-streetcar-scandal/5771/

            Here’s the key quote:

            “But a great many competing voices consider this entire notion to be little more than popular myth. The legal record shows that the federal government did not in fact convict GM of a vast streetcar scandal, but rather merely an attempt to corner ‘the sale of supplies’ in the auto industry. A number of scholars and even some pro-rail publications explain that the situation was much more complex than Snell suggested. The strongest rebuttal came from transit scholar George Hilton (on whose work Snell had ironically relied) in his own 1974 Senate testimony.”

        • 0 avatar
          pragmatist

          GM did not have that power. Market forces did.

          Buses provided more flexibility, no complex embedded infrastructure, routes could go anywhere there were roads, without rails (an issue back in the days of horses and wagons), competing companies could run on the same routes, routes could easily change (long term ridership change, short term special purpose change) .

          Forget the conspiracy BS in pop culture. GM could not kill streetcars, the market did.

          • 0 avatar
            geeber

            Very true. It’s also important to remember that street car lines generally LOST money. Electric utilities, however, owned them for accounting purposes. The utility could sell power to the street car line, and use the losses incurred by the street car line to justify higher rates for business and residential customers.

            Federal legislation passed in the mid-1930s barred this practice. A utility could still own a street car line, but could no longer use its losses to justify price increases to residential and business customers.

            With the passage of that act, there was no reason for many utilities to own a street car line. They were sold, and the new owners, wanting to halt the losses, switched to buses, as they were more flexible. Municipalities, meanwhile, were happy to have the rail lines torn out of the streets, as they made repaving more difficult and expensive.

            Street car ridership had been declining since the 1920s. It received a temporary boost during World War II, when gasoline and tires were rationed. But it resumed its decline after the war. This would have happened regardless of any action taken by GM.

          • 0 avatar
            gtrslngr

            Forget the GM propaganda / rhetoric etc . It is a matter of historical record . GM in conjunction with its allies destroyed the Public Transportation system in the US . Period .

            NOT … the market .

            BTW .. as to the blatant ignorance of your ” GM did not have the power … ” comment .

            Wake up and smell the ragweed . Money talks. And GM with Standard Oil – Goodyear and a few very corrupt politicians … had both the money and the power . Using it to their benefit

          • 0 avatar
            geeber

            Again, you’re wrong. Read the story in The Atlantic, which is hardly a pro-GM publication. GM did not kill the street car lines, and your repetition of the myth will not make it a fact.

            You can’t understand what really happened without reading about the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935. That federal act was the nail in the coffin of many street car lines.

            The simple fact is that street car lines had been a losing propositions from a financial standpoint for many years prior to World War II. They only made sense for utility companies that could use them as a captive customer, and thus use their losses to justify rate increases to other customers.

            Once the federal government barred this practice with the passage of that act, there was little, if any, rationale for a utility company to own a street car line. GM had nothing to do with that.

          • 0 avatar
            gtrslngr

            @ geeber – Your overall ignorance on the subject : as well as having been taken in Lock , Stock & Barrel by GM’s propaganda /apologist machine is beyond astounding to the point of absurdity

            Your use of that Kangaroo Court case as evidence to prove your point only driving home even further how completely and utterly deluded you are when it comes to the history of public transportation in the US

            But then again . I’m guessing you’d of been one of those naysayers that’d of claimed back in the day that Denver’s Light Rail would fail financially . And like GM’s involvement with the demise of public transportation in the US

            You’d be dead wrong about that as well !

            So which is it ? Worked for GM ? Still work for GM ? Or just a shareholder hoping desperately to keep what little money you still have left intact ?

          • 0 avatar
            gtrslngr

            @ geeber – On this particular subject you are well and good beyond hopeless . Abjectly and utterly Clueless comes closer … but even thats not a strong enough term to explain your overall ignorance

            So on that note . I’ll close my part in this discussion with you . Discussing this with the likes of you being an exercise in futility

          • 0 avatar
            geeber

            I guess “hopeless” and “clueless” are now synonymous with “brings facts to the discussion.” I have yet to see any actual facts from you, beyond what you think you know.

            You need to read The Atlantic story so that you’ll have a better understanding of this entire saga. I highly doubt that The Atlantic is part of the GM propaganda machine.

            As for my reliance on that “kangaroo case” to prove my point – it shows you don’t understand the history of this entire saga.

            This is the very same case that Brad Snell, who originally advanced the story about GM conspiring to kill street car service, used to make HIS case. Unfortunately – for him, anyway – he misinterpreted the decision of the case.

            As for the success of the Denver light rail project – it relies heavily on government funds to continue. Even if it loses money, the government isn’t going to pull the plug, as it can’t walk away from a completed system. It can always raise more money through higher taxes:

            “If Denver’s proposed expansion is at the extreme of U.S. transit programs, its difficulties, caused by the recession and inflation in construction costs, are not. RTD’s original plan suggested that FasTracks would require $4.7 billion to complete, but the project’s costs have ramped up to $7 billion according to the most recent estimates. In order to save the program, regional leaders have suggested asking citizens to double the sales tax to 0.8% in an election planned for 2011 or 2012.”

            Cost overruns and repeated demands for more money to cover them do not fit the definition of “financial success” to those with even a rudimentary understanding of finance.

            No one who understands either finance or the history of mass transit in this country would use the finances of a 21st century, government-owned transit system to “prove” that GM killed a profitable, in-demand transit service in the 1940s and 1950s.

            There is a place for government-funded mass transit in certain urban and suburban areas in 21st century America. The reason these light-rail systems are owned and controlled by the government, however, is that they don’t make money – at least, not with fares that are affordable to the working class and working poor (the people who really need affordable mass transit).

            That is why utilities and other private companies were happy to shed their street car line subsidiaries after passage of the 1935 federal act in the first place. That isn’t GM’s fault.

          • 0 avatar
            DC Bruce

            Having grown up in Washington, DC, I remember the street cars well, which ran into the early 1960s. The transit system was privately owned and ran both buses and street cars.There is nothing magic about a street car. In fact, it requires an incredible amount of infrastructure as compared to a bus: overhead wires to supply electricity and rails. Given that they ran on city streets (for the most part) and were subject to being stuck in traffic, they were no faster than buses, either. Finally, steel wheels on steel rails are loud. Every little bump in the rails makes a nice big bang. I’m sure the people on residential streets that had street cars (and you can still see the tracks in a few narrow streets in Georgetown that have been preserved with the original cobblestone) did not appreciate the banging and clanging outside their windows (not that diesel-powered buses are all that nice, either).

      • 0 avatar
        mikey

        @gtrslngr……Yes, ya did it. You wrote something I agree with. I’ve said it a zillion times here. “Management manages!”

        The UAW/CAW mandate, and only mandate, is to represent the membership.

        Well said sir!

    • 0 avatar
      Onus

      That last sentence in the 2nd to last paragraph is great.

      I wish American companies would learn this sometimes. The small ones understand the big ones, not so much. That’s my experience at least.

    • 0 avatar
      wumpus

      Because stockerholders would be happy with limited profits if only they didn’t have to pay their employees. Right.

  • avatar
    Jan Bayus

    For a sub contractor to have two levels of quality items being produced in their facility and separating them to ship the better parts to the Japanese automakers and less reliable parts to the American automakers cannot be substantiated by any evidence. If a system like that existed, the Japanese car makers who would audit the sub contractors quality system would FAIL the system. It would cost the suppliers too much money and for WHAT? They would lose money using your analogy. This problem looks like it was identified and sent to the engineering department as it should have been, but the P/N fiasco and the decision by DeGiorgio could be looked at as a fraudulent act. I do not see a cover up by GM, but there is definitely a need to fire several people and the DoJ should investigate the depth of cover-up. BUT the idea that somebody would suggest a change to a key should have been seen as a sign of something worse if the problem was elevated or brought tot the attention of those in upper management.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    Ahh, but this is the old GM…

    • 0 avatar
      Pebble

      Old GM, new GM, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Makers of the craptastic Citation, Chevette, Cavalier, Deadly Cobalt, Cimarron, Northstar engines, DexCool and late Seventies models where the rear windows don’t even roll down. Garbage Motors wins my confidence every time with that lineup.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    I’m afraid I don’t see the confusion.
    This component was engineered to roll the dice after it was found to be an expensive situation to resolve, and unlikely. They knew exactly what they were doing. I’ve seen how the cost of adding one ziptie on a golf cart production turns into a million dollars. I can only imagine what it’s like for an automaker who has to deal with real problems. Tomorrow we will discuss why GM can’t make any money.

    Now everybody is demanding that these murdering bastards pay. But, you can bet-no, COUNT on this stuff going on everywhere around you. From some one-in-million chance you could get your thorax crushed in a faulty power window, to the roadside signs that won’t harpoon you all the time if you crash into one. Anyone remember that bridge that fell down?

    These guys aren’t saints, but you have to do your best, and keep it out of the limelight so people don’t think you’re trying to re-enact a scene from Maximum Overdrive with your complex product.

    BTW, did I read that right? They made the component BETTER using a part from a…CATERA?

  • avatar
    Onus

    Why the heck is ACC between off and run?

    Maybe i have too much experience driving fords where it is setup like this:

    acc-off-run-start.

    IIRC i believe the Jeep i learned to drive on is the same.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      My 1990 Ford pickup has the second style, while my other cars (VW, Hondas) have the first style.

      One major advantage of the former is that you don’t lose any power to the radio if you want to keep listening to it after turning off the engine. With today’s computer-controlled radios, it takes several seconds for them to boot up, so briefly turning the radio off and then on again results in several seconds of delay (annoying while one is listening to the news).

      YMMV

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Most modern vehicles are set up with accessory between off and run now.

      In the case of these vehicles, it wouldn’t have mattered with regards to these crashes. With these lock cylinders, if the force applied was sufficient to turn the key backward one position to “accessory”, the net effect would have been the same if it were turned back one position to “off”.

      If the passive restraints systems were designed to be powered up in “accessory”, similar to the radio or power windows, then the end results may have been different.

      • 0 avatar

        > If the passive restraints systems were designed to be powered up in “accessory”, similar to the radio or power windows

        Power windows are generally out until key is turned to “on”, I guess similar to SRS.

        But this actually makes for a good illustration. If someone died because their car went in the water due to some key defect and they can’t open the windows, maybe the argument would be to move PW to acc, too.

        Low likelihood events are hard to reason about, and humans tend to be bad at stats anyway.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          “Power windows are generally out until key is turned to “on”, I guess similar to SRS.”

          It varies by vehicle, but for the most part that is false. In most modern vehicles, the power windows will be powered up the in the accessory position.

          After this debacle, it wouldn’t surprise me to see SRS systems powered up on the accessory/accessory delay circuits on future vehicles.

          • 0 avatar

            > In most modern vehicles, the power windows will be powered up the in the accessory position.

            This isn’t true in the Japanese cars (incl friends & fam) I generally drive. And I recall it wasn’t true for the domestic rentals I used to drive more often.

          • 0 avatar

            ^ I also recall PW working in ACC was advertised as a “feature” when the Toyota Matrix came out, which would imply it’s not the norm.

          • 0 avatar
            danio3834

            ” I also recall PW working in ACC was advertised as a “feature” when the Toyota Matrix came out, which would imply it’s not the norm.”

            That was over a decade ago. It’s become commonplace since.

          • 0 avatar

            > That was over a decade ago. Things have largely changed since.

            Did they all change in the last major update?

      • 0 avatar
        MadHungarian

        I’m really surprised that no one is keying (so to speak) on this as a totally separate defect, i.e. the fact that the air bags aren’t powered up when the key is in ACC — or, for that matter, whenever the seat sensors detect the weight of someone occupying a front seat. There are plenty of reasons other than a defective ignition switch where a person may be occupying a vehicle with the ignition in the ACC or OFF positions and be at risk of being hit. I wonder how many consumers realized, before this Cobalt situation erupted, that air bags weren’t always ready to fire. I know I didn’t. Maybe I’m just dumb.

        I’m wondering if this issue isn’t being pursued because it is completely nuclear, as in it would render every car in existence legally defective. Is the Cobalt unusual in this regard or is every vehicle designed this way? Did NHTSA explicitly bless this design characteristic somewhere along the way, or did no one think about it?

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          “I’m really surprised that no one is keying (so to speak) on this as a totally separate defect, i.e. the fact that the air bags aren’t powered up when the key is in ACC”

          I’ve made that point elsewhere. It would be nice if the airbags would work when there are people in the car, particularly when it is in motion, even if the motor is turned off.

          • 0 avatar
            DC Bruce

            So your friendly mechanic is doing some work on the HVAC fan behind the dash and is sitting in a seat. The car is switched off, but, as you request, the airbags are energized. He inadvertently crosses the wrong wires and BAM!, the airbag goes off, injuring him.

            Nice.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            I would sincerely hope that the friendly mechanic isn’t wrenching the A/C while the car is moving at highway speed.

          • 0 avatar

            > I’ve made that point elsewhere. It would be nice if the airbags would work when there are people in the car, particularly when it is in motion, even if the motor is turned off.

            There are likely far more non-deployments and such due to various failure of existing sensors so whatever extra complexity is far better used to upgrade those than worry about scenarios that almost never happen.

            Worth noting this is the classic qualitative vs quantitative, stranger-danger vs pool deaths mistake.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            So after all that, you’re still relying upon the odds to make decisions that shouldn’t be based upon odds.

            It seems that Brooke Melton taught you nothing. But even if you haven’t learned the lesson, I do hope that GM has.

          • 0 avatar

            > So after all that, you’re still relying upon the odds to make decisions that shouldn’t be based upon odds.

            Using math to make inherently quantitative decisions will always be superior to doing it from the gut.

            > It seems that Brooke Melton taught you nothing. But even if you haven’t learned the lesson, I do hope that GM has.

            A significant mistake in their calculations is missing/ignoring the crash data and its repercussions. This is a quantitative error, but doesn’t mean math is pointless.

            Hand waving about it may accidentally produce better results, but by definition not as consistently as understanding specifics of underlying relationships.

            It’s also worth noting that sometimes playing the right odds (eg poker) will still result in losing. “I told you so” is not a good counterargument in that case.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Well, you’ve definitely got the bean counter mentality wired, that’s for sure. Those who can’t see the forest from the trees end up using spreadsheets to destroy companies.

            This is a classic black swan problem. With your mindset, we end up breeding flocks of them.

          • 0 avatar

            > Well, you’ve definitely got the bean counter mentality wired, that’s for sure. Those who can’t see the forest from the trees end up using spreadsheets to destroy companies.

            Much as the shoot from the gut crowd might believe otherwise, just because some folks can’t do math right doesn’t mean it’s pointless.

            Beancounting is the correct methodology for fine-tune cost optimizations; and other maths is also the right approach for insurance. GM’s mistake is confusing the math applicable in the former for the latter.

            > This is a classic black swan problem. With your mindset, we end up breeding flocks of them.

            Contrary to what idiot-heros like N.Taleb might believe, just because he’s too dumb to identify some black swans doesn’t mean they’re invisible to everyone else, too.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            “just because he’s too dumb to identify some black swans doesn’t mean they’re invisible to everyone else, too.”

            An ironic comment, given that the black swan named Brooke Melton has landed right in front of you, yet you still can’t see it.

          • 0 avatar

            > An ironic comment, given that the black swan named Brooke Melton has landed right in front of you, yet you still can’t see it.

            How is Melton a black swan proper when Toyota unintentionally accelerated over several in recent memory?

            I don’t think the lesson here is the one you’re intending.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            You don’t seem capable of learning the lesson, given your fixation with the odds.

            It’s really difficult to put a price on the cost of Brooke Melton type events, let alone predict their timing, how high those costs will be or the forms that such costs will take.

            The potential for such events to unravel as much as they can makes it particularly important to avoid such moments entirely, rather than betting on the odds to save us. It’s the nuclear war problem, and anyone who uses a spreadsheet to rationalize a catastrophe of that nature is a fool.

            In any case, you aren’t going to grasp this, I know. But I do hope that GM does, since it’s going to have to cope with it.

          • 0 avatar

            > It’s the nuclear war problem, and anyone who uses a spreadsheet to rationalize a catastrophe of that nature is a fool.

            Toyota seems to be doing fine. Considering it’s possible to buy insurance against far worse contingency such as death and bankruptcy, this looks to be a problem of not grasping how insurance math works same as GM.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            There’s no insurance policy to cover all of the potential costs of these types of events.

            In any case, you’ve devoted a lot of drama to justifying the avoidance of a recall that they ended up having to conduct, anyway.

            GM used your approach, and it cost them dearly. Once it becomes obvious that an idea is bad, you should change your ideas, not dig in and double down on them.

          • 0 avatar

            > There’s no insurance policy to cover all of the potential costs of these types of events.

            Again, there’s insurance to cover up to the complete BK of GM, so I’m guess they can also do the math for some smaller subset of results.

            > GM used your approach, and it cost them dearly. Once it becomes obvious that an idea is bad, you should change your ideas, not dig in and double down on them.

            I’m also guessing GM and other automakers are smart enough to understand their math error, namely the difference between beancounting and insurance, eventually; how about you?

  • avatar
    troyohchatter

    While there are a large number of products available from the transplants and the “renwed” domestic manufacturers as well as the Koreans, please don’t let it be lost that both of my latest vehicles were designed and built in Japan and are products of that culture.

    ZOOM-ZOOM…

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “Cost played a major role in the decision to not recall the ignition switch early on.”

    Based upon skimming what you’ve posted, this is not quite on point. The 2005 document cites three reasons: (a) long lead time, (b) cost and (c) the fixes didn’t really create much benefit.

    It’s the last point that is probably most relevant. The GM attitude was that this sort of shutdown doesn’t happen often enough to justify the time and expense needed to make a change that creates almost no benefit.

    This suggests something about their mindset in assessing risk. Because the odds of failure were low to begin with, the changes didn’t seem to be worthwhile.

    They were looking at the wrong risk. They were worrying about the reliabiity of the part (which was generally fine — it rarely broke), instead of the consequences of failure (which definitely weren’t fine.)

    From GM’s perspective, the problem didn’t occur very often, and the individual cases when people died often included mitigating factors for which the driver could be blamed. This is the wrong way to analyze this, and they did it the wrong way.

    • 0 avatar

      > From GM’s perspective, the problem didn’t occur very often, and the individual cases when people died often included mitigating factors for which the driver could be blamed. This is the wrong way to analyze this, and they did it the wrong way.

      This depends on what they knew about the seemingly perennial safety investigation into this at the time. In theory the car shutting off is bad but in practice it might not actually happen much.

      2005 was still early days for data to show up.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “In theory the car shutting off is bad”

        That alone should have been enough.

        This is an example of a misuse of cost-benefit analysis. There are times when the consequences of failure are so high that the odds of failure aren’t relevant.

        Like nuclear war, there’s no need to have one to know how bad it is, and the track record of nuke usage (zero since 1945) does nothing to reduce the need to minimize the risk today. The worst-case scenario is the overriding issue, because it’s really bad.

        If “Doctor Olds” is representative of the company mentality, then there is nothing surprising about this outcome. Some people can’t grasp this type of risk assessment; it isn’t just about odds.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Sounds a little bit like the mentality Ford demonstrated toward the Pinto defect.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            “Sounds a little bit like the mentality Ford demonstrated toward the Pinto defect.”

            Pretty much.

            If the consequence of failure was a bit of inconvenience, then it would be appropriate to ignore it. But when the worst-case scenario is a failure of basic safety systems in the car, then it’s a significant issue, even if very few people are impacted by it.

            There shouldn’t need to be a stack of bodies prior to action being taken to fix it. Airbags shouldn’t just stop working.

        • 0 avatar

          > That alone should have been enough…. Some people can’t grasp this type of risk assessment; it isn’t just about odds.

          Any number of things in the car has potential to cut off power or similar, some of which may be empirically more important than this anyway. There’s really no way to determine ahead of time, and it’s only through very latent hindsight that we see this marginally crosses that threshold by accident of its nature.

          Doc Old’s problem is that he refuses to accept even glaringly significant problems. This specific issue is statistically speaking not as bad as it’s made out to be in the media. More problematic is the multitude of incompetences reflected here which leads to this *category* of issues.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            “This specific issue is statistically speaking not as bad as it’s made out to be in the media.”

            It doesn’t need to be statistically significant in order for it to be important.

            The fixation on odds is exactly the problem. It isn’t about odds.

          • 0 avatar

            > The fixation on odds is exactly the problem. It isn’t about odds.

            No, qualifying instead of quantifying problems is the root of most every populist issue.

            Frankly if Melton wasn’t a marketable white girl, it’s quite likely we wouldn’t be here talking about this.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            You’ve articulated the GM position. As you can see, that has served them well (cough, cough.)

          • 0 avatar

            > You’ve articulated the GM position. As you can see, that has served them well (cough, cough.)

            I’m pretty the GM position isn’t predicated on why this even became a “story” in the first place.

            Poor understanding of quantitatives is why for example parents mistakenly and often fatally concentrate on stranger-danger instead of falling into the pool.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Again, it’s not about odds.

            With a problem like this, there was always going to be a Brooke Melton, i.e. a sober driver who didn’t “deserve” to die.

            The GM mentality essentially assumed that an airbag deployment failure didn’t matter if the driver was bad. But one should not bet heavily that every crash victim is going to be easily demonized.

            Those who work for the company yet fail to understand this concept are exposing the company to grave danger. This has placed billions of dollars of shareholder value at risk, in addition to killing people — even if they don’t care about the customers, they sure as hell ought to care about the market cap.

          • 0 avatar

            > The GM mentality essentially assumed that an airbag deployment failure didn’t matter if the driver was bad. One should not bet heavily that every crash victim is going to be easily demonized.

            This has little to do with that it’s still a statistically unlikely event, just like child abduction by strangers. Perhaps likely enough to warrant a recall, but that’s what those are there for.

            Just because there’s always going to be a few cases that Nancy Grace can exploit for money doesn’t mean it’s worthy of national news. OTOH your point that Nancy Grace is a thing and companies should tread carefully around sensationalizable stories is compelling. That’s in part why they have massive PR depts.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            We seem to have some cognitive dissonance here.

            I’ve explained why the odds provide the wrong metric for evaluating the appropriate course of action.

            Continually going back to the odds as if they provide a valid explanation only goes to show that people who don’t grasp these alternative approaches to risk assessment are destructive to business.

            If I was a GM manager with authority and someone in an engineering role continually framed this strictly as a matter of odds, then I would fire them. Cost-benefit is not the only tool for assessing and managing risk, and relying upon it strictly is suicidal for the business.

          • 0 avatar

            > I’ve explained why the odds provide the wrong metric for evaluating the appropriate course of action.

            The confusion arises because action occurs at two different levels here:

            1. The technically appropriate course of action.

            2. The appearance of appropriate course of action.

            I’m speaking of 1, you’re speaking of 2. Both are important, but for different reasons and their handling diverges since 1 is what is done day-to-day and 2 is what occurs after the fact (though often prepared for at a higher level).

            As mentioned, any number of technical things cause accidents, and there’s no way to predict which ahead of time. The key point is that the incidence of Melton’s is *directly related* to the odds you seem to dismiss, NOT some other X factor. From the math perspective at most it’s just a PR/legal cost they neglected to add in.

            To reiterate, twice as many of pretty much *any* technically liable incident doubles the likelihood of a Melton (ie independent event), and likewise close to zero practical incidents implies practically zero Meltons.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            The cost of having just one Brooke Melton is unacceptably high. Just one.

          • 0 avatar

            > The cost of having just one Brooke Melton is unacceptably high. Just one.

            The problem is that there’s no way to accurately predict from the 100 or whatever incidents a manufacturer might be liable for a year where that Melton comes from.

            If we’re going to be specific where GM’s technical public cover failed, it’s that they didn’t identify that 5/yr for $500k is probabilistically speaking a good deal. They looked every years into this and either didn’t see it or moved too slow to spend that money.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            The great thing about appropriate risk mitigation is that you don’t have to do any guessing.

            Again, it’s disconcerting to see how difficult it is for some people to understand something that should be fairly basic. Unfortunately, some of them end up in jobs in which their bad judgment morphs into real world problems such as this one.

          • 0 avatar

            ^ It’s also worth adding that it wouldn’t have prevented Melton per se, since she had a 2005 car likely bought in 2004 and the mistake/solution discussion wasn’t uncovered/happen until 2005 anyway.

            But it would mitigate the *appearance*, ie. part 2 above, of liability via due diligence, so it would’ve just been something for PR to handle instead of blowing up.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Your position is essentially the same as was GM’s, and it has turned into a clusterf**k. Try connecting the dots.

          • 0 avatar

            > The great thing about appropriate risk mitigation is that you don’t have to do any guessing.

            The specifics of risk mitigation is non-trivial, especially on complex systems that have never been deployed in that exact configuration before.

            Maybe it’s easy to wave your hands about it after the fact, but there’s good reason why the NTSHA or any other safety org investigates accidents instead of expecting prescience.

          • 0 avatar

            > Your position is essentially the same as was GM’s, and it has turned into a clusterf**k. Try connecting the dots.

            Again, GM’s main mistake was not connecting 5 or so incidents a year to only $500k in ~2005.

            I don’t think we disagree this is a good deal.

            Where we seem to disagree is whether someone could’ve predicted such a specific deal ahead of time in 2001.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            “Where we seem to disagree is whether someone could’ve predicted such a specific deal ahead of time in 2001.”

            I never referenced 2001.

            The point is that airbag and critical safety system failures should be on the catastrophic “nuclear war” list.

            The response to such failures should be to fix them, irrespective of the short-run cost, because the worst-case scenario is far too high to entertain for even a moment. The odds do not matter one whit; all that matters is the damage risk of the worst-case scenario.

          • 0 avatar

            > I never referenced 2001.

            2001 was when things were designed and the defect entered the system (via the incompetent design engineer). 2005 was the earliest possible time the rest of the org could’ve connected dots. Melton’s car was a 2005 model.

            > The point is that airbag and critical safety system failures should be on the catastrophic “nuclear war” list.

            To avoid repetition of the somewhat nuanced issues underlying this, consider reading the rest of this same conversation with DenverMike:

            http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/gm-call-center-sees-double-upton-prepares-for-hearing/#comment-3021729

            This sort of stuff is much more obvious in hindsight than beforehand.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            For those who are lacking insight, hindsight becomes a fall guy.

            When airbags fail to deploy and those failures can be linked to a poor part, then that should be a big clue that it’s a problem that demands fixing.

            No deaths should be required and no blame shifting should be undertaken. When the defect is identified, it should be fixed.

            Otherwise, we end up with more excuses, more Brooke Meltons, more Doctor Olds type bureaucrats, more mad scientist rationalizers, more litigation, reduced shareholder value, and worsened reputations that shave future revenues and market share. Smart people have the foresight to know that replacement parts are guaranteed to be cheaper than all of that.

          • 0 avatar

            > For those who are lacking insight, hindsight becomes a fall guy. When airbags fail to deploy and those failures can be linked to a poor part, then that should be a big clue that it’s a problem that demands fixing.

            Let’s be clear about the two distinct processes at play in different parts of the company. One is the key/ignition off issue on the design side seen above. One is the safety investigations on airbag deployment. GM’s fault as mentioned was their *seeming* inability to connect the dots between those two hands in 2005.

            People who’re good at hand-waving about insight after the fact should perhaps be hired for that role at GM. It seems one of their other issues is lack of someone convenient to point the finger at.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            By 2007, it became apparent that airbags were failing to deploy. But GM was apparently focusing on the individual circumstances of the drivers, such as their BACs and seat belt usage, rather than directing their attentions to GM’s equipment and its failure to deploy.

            The excuse makers of GM were devoting their energies to finding fault with the drivers instead of fixing bad equipment. Last I checked, airbags are supposed to deploy even when drivers are drunk or inept. The fact that their proper operation may not have helped in specific crashes does nothing to justify their failure to work as intended.

            In any case, anyone who doesn’t understand should probably apply for a job at GM, since the mentality is shared by the legacy workers. Those who understand appropriate risk management need not apply.

          • 0 avatar

            > By 2007, it became apparent that airbags were failing to deploy. The excuse makers of GM were devoting their energies to finding fault with the drivers instead of fixing bad equipment.

            It’s worth pointing out again in those two levels described above that there’s a difference between what’s said publicly and what happens internally.

            Note the switch was magically fixed upstream by Delphi in 2006, signed off by the very same inept design engineer. That’s why I mentioned from the start this is where keen investigators should focus.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            What happened internally is that it took several years to turn a known problem into a recall. Not smart.

          • 0 avatar

            > What happened internally is that it took several years to turn a known problem into a recall. Not smart.

            Sure, the safety arm took too long to figure out that a recall was in their interest. Still, they would’ve passed under the radar back in the prior admin’s NHTSA, but now they have to face the music of a justice dept that throw around $billion fines over nothing.

    • 0 avatar
      Phillip Thomas

      Lead time and the fixes not being viable are side-lined by the cost issue, I believe. That was the reoccurring theme while digesting this. Lead time is BS, they knew about the issue ~4 years before the Cobalt hit the public. They could have signed the fix into production much earlier, and fix the early year cars as they come in. We all know first-year cars are quirky, and design changes in the second and third model year are common; sometimes the old parts fall into a voluntary recall and are fixed for free.

      But cost was the reoccurring worry in most of the emails, there’s one email in which DeGiorgio is asked to factor the costs of a redesign. The totals came out to about $150/switch on a voluntary recall, or about $10 per switch for a force recall. These are dealer costs. Not sure what the parts cost to GM would have been. Unfortunately, my hard drive crashed yesterday morning, so I don’t have the screenshot on-hand at the moment.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        I think what you’re missing is that they used the low body count and the alleged fault of the drivers in order to reduce the benefit of the cost-benefit analysis.

        Many of these drivers were at fault for the crashes. In the case of the airbag deployment failures, it was possible to find crash experts who could argue that those who died in the crashes would have died, anyway.

        As I’ve noted above (and as some refuse to understand), this is a bad way to analyze the risk. If the car has a design defect, then it’s a matter of time before the stars align against the company — it is inevitable that there will be someone who wasn’t at fault or who was only partially fault or who may have been at fault, but who could have been saved had the equipment worked properly. That’s the basis for a perfect storm that leads to enormous costs that can’t be forecast with any accuracy.

        It’s simply stupid to rationalize away this risk, but we have no shortage of idiots who are positions of authority to make these bad choices.

  • avatar
    troyohchatter

    In reference to the two tiered quality, that happens all the time, even to consumers. Take, for example, a simple Toro push mower. People said they wouldn’t pay more than $400 for a Toro Recycler fully loaded. They make one too. 1 year warranty, steel deck, and a “consumer grade” engine. The Super Recycler has the aluminum deck, 5 year warranty, and commercial engine. It also does a better job and will outlast the consumer model 5 to 1. But guess which one the consumers will buy?

    So you know, when the manufacturer comes to a sub-manufacturer and states “hey, we wil pay this and it needs to last xx long” well, that’s what they get. So the spec on a given part might be better than another, that’s not the sub’s fault.

    To put it another way; everytime I replaced the cabin filter in most cars I am removing steel screws. On my 1997 Taurus I would instead remove these God awful plastic “push-screws” that invarioubly broke. If they can’t get the spec right on a SCREW, well, it’s no surprise the car gave up the ghost before 125K.

    The domestics don’t have the market covered on this. My 2003 CR-V had more lame metal and plastic crap on it, all of which that broke before 120K miles, than almost any other car I owned. Meanwhile, the 2000 CR-V that I parked right next to it had high quality metal in the same places and, thus, was in a lot better shape at 175K miles than the 2003 was when I sold it with 120K on it.

    When the focus becomes MAINTAINING market share and profit, these things happen. The cure? Buy a vehicle from a manufacturer that is attempting to GROW market share, not maintain it, and is attempting to grow by increased quality, durability, and reliability.

    ZOOM ZOOM!!

  • avatar
    old5.0

    Where’s Z-71whatshisname? Somehow, this is all Ford’s fault.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    +10 on the article, excellent journalism.

    I’m a little busy to write an extended comment, but having worked for a company which was a Tier 1 supplier to Detroit’s B3 and Asian companies, that the level of cooperation between the former and the later, is significantly better with the Asians (although they have their own cultural quirks).

    On paper, everything in the quality system may look the same. But the day to day interactions, the way meetings are conducted, their focus on problem solving vs. culprit finding, make a significant contribution on how fast and effectively a problem is solved.

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    TTAC – - –

    (and Phillip Thomas , in particular) – -

    Great.
    Absolutely outstanding.
    This type of disclosure and reporting sets TTAC aside from anything else.
    Keep it up.

    —————

  • avatar
    philadlj

    “The design change added…about $400,000 in tooling costs.”

    Compare that to the compensation of GM CEOs Wagoner, Akerson, and Barra during all this inaction, and that “unacceptable business case” excuse starts sounding mighty insane.

    Still, even if someone regarded as competent like Mullaly was at the helm of GM, the fact would remain the company seems like a many-handed Durga whose individual hands aren’t aware what any of the other hands are doing.

  • avatar

    The most interesting part of this case that most stories (even pretty good ones like this) is the nature of the GM-Delphi relationship. Right now they’re both busy taking turns throwing each other under the bus, but coverage of the Delphi side has been sparse.

    Their side to congress:
    http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/index.php?q=news/democrats-request-details-about-gm-approval-of-faulty-ignition-switches

    The key part for liability is this:
    “According to Delphi officials, GM began discussions with Delphi about the need to modify and re-test the switch in mid-2005, agreed to modify the design switch, approved a design with a longer spring”.

    Depending on what and who at GM knew at the time, they won’t necessarily be able to maintain plausible deniability that it’s just a routine part update. This coupled with the state of their safety investigations at the time would be where the regulator/justice dept apply pressure.

    Also worth noting Delphi underwent their own BK ~2005.

  • avatar
    phargophil

    Sadly, I’m in a position to witness the possibility of this sort of scenario on a daily basis.

    The scenario starts out as an assignment to a low level engineer to revise a part, say modifiy a resistor value slightly in a switch. The managing engineer having assigned the job to the fellow expects the change to be a simple revision, the revised part will work to service the old and the old is quite adequate (the revised part being only marginally better) to service usage of the revised part. In the meantime, the engineer sees something about the assembly that should be modified as well, minor but beneficial. He completes his work for all of the revisions and prepares the documentation, and as is normal, this takes several weeks. The managing engineer vaguely remembers asking the person to revise the resistor value, looks at the change summary after all this time and sees that it involves the assembly in question, and due to workload, carelessness, too much trust, whatever, signs off on the change, without a thorough perusal.

    Weeks, months, years later the change that was so minor pops up to be a major problem.

    I’ve seen this progression many times. Unfortunately, I feel the real solution is to become more “zero-tolerant” of errors in all levels of an organization. The fear of one’s head being chopped off tends to force an individual into doing his best to avoid the prospect.

    • 0 avatar

      > Unfortunately, I feel the real solution is to become more “zero-tolerant” of errors in all levels of an organization.

      Most folks unfamiliar with org life don’t understand what’s going on here. A significant purpose of middle management is to buffer fault from the top. People who read Dilbert might believe it’s just accidental that clueless people are often promoted to clueless mgmt positions, but rest assured these folks have their role to play.

      That GM let this filter to the CEO is just another sign of relative incompetence of their top level officers.

      • 0 avatar
        phargophil

        That is certainly what our corporate culture has evolved into being.

        Where I work, it seems that ideas for the “Dilbert” strip are supplied by our organizational methods.

        • 0 avatar

          > That is certainly what our corporate culture has evolved into being.

          It’s always been that way with human orgs, though the methods and processes have become more formalize with time.

          > Where I work, it seems that ideas for the “Dilbert” strip are supplied by our organizational methods.

          “The Office” is far more perceptive of these issues. The relevant bit from the show is where local HR conducts mandatory ethics training and uncovers some questionable behavior beneficial to the company. In the call to corporate they’re told their job was get everyone to sign the completion forms, not sherlock holmes, along with a veiled but deniable threat that if they can’t do what every other branch managed to this would be a different conversation.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      A zero-tolerance environment merely encourages upper-level managers to push blame downhill to middle management, who will in turn push it down to the lower-level workers, who will then be replaced by new lower-level workers while their incompetent bosses remain.

      Your idea will make a bad situation worse by inviting more coverups and excuses to delegate fault to the grunts. It’s precisely the opposite of what is needed, namely an environment in which healthy risk taking is encouraged and where the focus is on creating good processes that create good outcomes, instead of turning staff into pinatas.

      • 0 avatar
        phargophil

        I understand what you are saying. Perhaps zero-tolerance is too simple a phrase to use. Maybe enforced accountability and vigilance for all levels is more appropriate.

        In my mind, this all-level accountability includes higher managers being observant of excessive turnover levels at lower managerial levels which could indicate that a lower manager may have problems hiring the proper people, can’t motivate the people he has or some other problem.

        I guess in a nutshell it comes down to true competence and the ability to use that ability at all levels. Perfect world.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          “Accountability” is just a buzzword for blaming other people.

          The problem is NOT a lack of accountability. The problem is a company that lacks systems that are robust enough to detect and fix mistakes.

          Mistakes will always be made. Employees need to be given the chance to fix and prevent them. They should be rewarded for making improvements and for avoiding pitfalls.

          But in Corporate America, we usually do the exact opposite. We don’t nurture workers here, we backstab them.

          • 0 avatar

            > But in Corporate America, we usually do the exact opposite. We don’t nurture workers here, we backstab them.

            The real difference between “good” powerbrokers and the typical “bad” ones is that the former typically try to backstab the right people.

            Stabbing the people who do real work is a poor idea. That’s why it’s better in functional orgs to set up some clueless and conveniently placed folks to take the fall. The Micheal Scotts of the world.

      • 0 avatar

        > It’s precisely the opposite of what is needed, namely an environment in which healthy risk taking is encouraged and where the focus is on creating good processes that create good outcomes, instead of turning staff into pinatas.

        Hahaha, good luck with that. As long as there are people on top with stakes to play for this will never happen.

  • avatar
    Stovebolt

    Very, very interesting article. As far as I’m concerned, REAL information like this is the only way to understand a situation. I also appreciate the many informative comments and the relatively few about unrelated topics (although the UAW and “bean counters” are getting close). Thank you, TTAC.

  • avatar

    “GM also had very little oversight on parts from Delphi, only relying on Delphi’s incomplete testing.
    GM’s engineers knowingly put the cars to market with a defective ignition switch.”

    I was going to say that somewhere Prof. Deming is sighing, but looking at his 14 principles for what others have termed Total Quality Management, it occurs to me that one of them, in a perverse way, may be responsible for how the above happened:

    “3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for massive inspection by building quality into the product in the first place.”

    GM relied on Delphi’s QC, which appears to have been non-existent.

    Meanwhile, I’m waiting for them to announce a recall on the balky ignition switch on the Saturn. They’ve already recalled other models for what sounds like the same problem.

    I hate the overuse of the word ironic, but one of the things we enthusiasts and car writers have hyped a bit is the quality of the switchgear, how we want knobs and switches to feel more like what you find on a conrad johnson or Audio Research preamp, than on a 1980s Hyundai product. So while GM and others have been embarked on a effort over the past decade or so to improve interior quality, including the switches in cars, GM’s internally known that the single most important switch in the car, the ignition switch, is “fragile”.

    Why were Delphi and GM so married to this particular switch design? Surely GM had another steering column they could have used off the shelf, or was this the only low mounted lock housing on the shelf?

    • 0 avatar
      epc

      “GM relied on Delphi’s QC, which appears to have been non-existent.”

      QC wouldn’t have helped in this case. The switch was manufactured correctly to the design. The problem was the design did not meet the GM specification. Once someone validated the prototype (and therefore the design), there was no going back.

      It’s not clear to me who designed the switch. I think I read it somewhere that GM designed the switch itself and asked Delphi to manufacture it, and Delphi had warned the design did not meet GM’s own specification. However, the part was validated anyway somehow by someone.

      In situations like this, once a part (and the design) is validated, it’s good to go.

    • 0 avatar
      Truckducken

      Ronnie, good question. GM had designed decades worth of perfectly functional ignition switches prior to this one. I wonder if the difference is mainly switch location? Putting the switch where it would be jostled by the driver’s knee on a routine basis is an interesting decision, to say the least. Short of a relocation, a more robust switch design was clearly needed. I don’t know whether the average GM ignition switch would have fared any better in this location. Perhaps there are data to answer this?

      BTW: was the 2006 electrical change signed off by DeGiorgio related to the airbag non-deployment in the ACC position? Enquiring minds want to know.

  • avatar
    Nick

    Nice piece of work pulling the pieces together. At first, I rather charitably thought that GM might be on the end of another witchhunt. Instead, it seems they both careless and inept to a degree that did somewhat surprise me. In any case they find themselves deep in it now…and heaven help them if all they have is the ‘oh that was the OLD GM’ defense.

    I guess the good news is that if you don’t mind a little risk used Cobalts and Ions must be dropping in price almost by the hour.

    • 0 avatar

      > Instead, it seems they both careless and inept to a degree that did somewhat surprise me.

      Far as how the sausage is made, GM defines mediocre, which means half the stuff people buy is worse.

      The funny is that r&d as reflected here is among the better departments since at least correct-ish answers exist.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    In the midst of all of the breathless “new photos of the Belchfire” pieces, we find this one.

    Wonderful! Excellent! Well-done.

    Apparently there was a GM torque specification for this part, which the part failed to meet because GM relied on Delphi to self-certify. Given that GM, not Delphi, bears the consequences of a below-spec part, that seems like a dumb thing to do.


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