General Motors Expanding Ignition Cylinder Recall To Other Models, Releases Timeline On Failure [w/ Full Text]

Phillip Thomas
by Phillip Thomas

“The process employed to examine this phenomenon was not as robust as it should have been. We are deeply sorry and we are working to address this issue as quickly as we can.” — Alan Batey, president of General Motors North America

Yesterday, GM expanded their ignition switch recall to include the other models mentioned in the Technical Information Service Bulletin (“ISB”). These include:

  • 2005 – 2007 Chevrolet HHR
  • 2006 – 2007 Pontiac Solstice
  • 2003 – 2007 Saturn Ion
  • 2007 Saturn Sky

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also launching a probe into why GM took so long to issue a recall. GM also released their chronology of the ignition cylinder issue and years of investigation to TTAC, which we will break down for your digestion along with the full text, after the jump.

You can read the full text here. Be warned, it’s over 2,300 words long. Here’s a detailed summary of the events:

2004

GM became aware of the issue around the time of the Cobalt launch, when GM learned of one incident where a Cobalt was turn off when the key was inadvertently knocked out of run. GM was able to replicate the issue, and an engineering query was started. Known as the Problem Resolution Tracking System inquiry (“PRTS”), it’s GM’s process for studying defects, finding a solution to the defect, and deciding whether or not the solution should be implemented.

“Engineers believed that low key cylinder torque effort was an issue and considered a number of potential solutions. After consideration of the lead time required, cost, and effectiveness of each of these solutions, the PRTS was closed with no action.”

2005

More incidents were reported to GM of the Cobalt’s ignition cylinder being easily knocked out of “run.” In a PRTS opened in May of 2005, an engineer suggested that the Cobalt’s key slot be changed into a hole. Though the initial proposal was approved, the change was later canceled. This lead to the first ISB in December 2005, which included all of the models (Except for the Saturn Sky, which had not been released just yet) listed above in the current recall , but only up to the 2006 Model Year (“MY”). GM was aware of accidents that had occured before the ISB was issued, and responded to them in the New York Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and The Daily Item (Sunbury, PA) according to the report.

The ISB was later updated to include MY 2007, and the MY 2007 Saturn Sky, which is the copy TTAC obtained last week.

“GM concluded in December 2005 that the Service Bulletin and field service campaign was the appropriate response to the reported incidents, given that the car’s steering and braking systems remained operational even after a loss of engine power, and the car’s engine could be restarted by shifting the car into either neutral or park.”


2006

The engineer responsible for the original ignition switch design signed off on the approval of design changes suggested by GM’s supplier, Delphi Mechatronics. The changes include, among other things, a new detent plunger design and stronger spring to increase the level of effort needed to twist the key between positions. The design was implemented by Delphi with out a change in part number, so GM did not have a hard date in which the design change made it to the effected models, but they believe it was for MY 2007. This is why ISB was amended to the in 2006 to include MY2007 models.

On August 1, 2006, GM opened a new PRTS when a Cobalt customer complained of stalling issues after receiving a new ignition cylinder. The PRTS was closed after the condition could not be replicated with 100 miles of driving.

2007



On March 29, 2007, GM employees met with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) to discuss occupant safety. In the meeting, the NHTSA informed the GM employees of a fatal accident that happened on July 29, 2005, where a 2005 Cobalt was involved in a front-end collision, and the vehicle’s sensing and diagnostic module (“SDM”) detected that the car was in the “accessory” position. Though GM’s legal department had opened a case in 2005, the GM employees at the NHTSA meeting were not aware of the incident.

GM tasked an investigating engineer to look into Cobalt crashes. By the end of 2007, GM found ten incidents where the car was claimed to have shut down prior to the accident. SDM was available for nine out of the ten crashes. In five of those crashes, the SDM reported that the ignition was in the “run” position, and four where in the “accessory” position.

2009

In Febuary 2009, a new PRTS was opened, and finally concluded with the design change in the Cobalt key suggested earlier. GM also met with Continental, the supplier of the SDM’s used in the Cobalt, in May. By this point, GM was aware of fourteen crashes, seven with the SDM reporting the key in the “run” position, and seven reporting the key in the “accessory” position. GM sent two Cobalt SDM’s that reported the ignition in the “run” position at the time of the accident to Continental for further testing. Continental revealed in the meeting that they had access to data that GM engineers did not, and found that in both SDM’s the sensing algorithm had been stopped while reporting the key in the “run” position. GM and Contentental discussed possible causes, but it is not known by TTAC at this time as to what those possible causes were.

2010

The Cobalt’s production was phased out as previously planned.

2011

GM launched an alphabet soup investigation using their Field Performance Evaluation (“FPE”) process, and assigned a Field Performance Assessment Engineer (“FPAE”) to investigate a group of 2005-2007 Cobalt and 2007 Pontiac G5 crashes where the airbags had no deployed in a frontal crash.

The results were inconclusive at first, with several other driver-factors that came into play with some of the accidents (Gravel roads, high speeds, etc). The only thing confirmed in the FPE investigation was that “some of the ignitions were recorded as having been in the ‘run’ position, while others were recorded as having been in either the “accessory” or “off” positions, at the time of the crash.”

The FPAE was asked to investigate if other known issues, namely the known ignition cylinder issues, were to explain the airbag non-deployment in the 2007 and earlier vehicles.

2012

In May of 2012, the FPAE tested the ignition cylinders of Chevrolet Cobalts, Chevrolet HHRs, Pontiac G5s, and Saturn Ions, in model years ranging from 2003 through 2010, according to the report. The cars were sampled at a salvage yard, and tested for their “torque performance,” or how much torque it takes to rotate the key though its detents. They found in vehicles made from MY 2007 and before that several switches showed torque performance below what GM had originally specified.

GM also looked to see if changes to the Cobalt’s anti-theft system in 2008 had any effect on the design of ignition cylinder, but results were inconclusive. GM opened two studies using their “Red X” and “Design for Six Sigma” problem-solving methodologies to look at why the tested ignition cylinders’ torque performance differed so greatly between one another. The Red X investigation was closed in November of 2012. The Design for Six Sigma investigation closed in January 2013. Both were inconclusive.

2013



In April of 2013, the FPAE discovered that the torque performance of a new GM ignition switch purchased after 2010 differed greatly from one in a 2005 Cobalt. The FPAE also learned that the plunger and spring differed greatly, as well.



Shortly after that assessment, GM consulted an outside engineering resource to investigate all of their findings. It was confirmed that the MY2007 and older cars regularly failed to meet the torque performance that GM had specified; that there was a change in the ignition cylinder design in late-2006 by Delphi, the part supplier; and that those changes were responsible for the different torque performance difference in the MY2007 and older cars when compared to the later model cars.

With all analysis complete, the results were brought to GM’s Field Performance Evaluation Review Committee (“FPERC”) and the Executive Field Action Decision Committee (“EFADC”) on December 17th, 2013, and a second EFADC meeting on January 31, 2014, when the EFADC directed a safety recall.

Conclusion

GM’s report summarizes it best:

Between 2005 and the date of this submission, GM is currently aware of 23 frontal-impact crashes involving 2005 to 2007 Chevrolet Cobalts and 2007 Pontiac G5s in which the recall condition may have caused or contributed to the airbags’ non-deployment. During that same timeframe, of these crashes, GM is currently aware of six that resulted in eight fatalities of frontal occupants. GM employees became aware of many of these crashes within a month of the dates on which they occurred. As GM learned of these crashes, employees undertook to investigate the underlying facts and circumstances to determine, among other things, why the airbags had not deployed. With respect to 22 of the 23 frontal-impact crashes referenced above, the data retrieved from the vehicles’ SDMs indicated that the ignition switches were in the “run” position in nine of the crashes, in the “accessory” position in twelve of the crashes, and in the “off” position in one of the crashes. Throughout this period, GM was involved in claims and lawsuits in which allegations were made regarding the ignition switch issue that is the subject of the recall. These 23 crashes are out of a total U.S. population of 619,122 vehicles subject to the pending recall.

What’s clear to me is this: GM was neglectful in dismissing the issue so early on. While the design was repaired by Delphi in a reasonable amount of time, the implementation into the older models should not have been ignored for so long. This is where GM dropped the ball, in my opinion. The key design change was not enough, only bandaiding the fault of the ignition cylinder.

So, here is the question for you, B&B. Where is GM irresponsible?

Were they justified in delaying their full investigation with the FPAE until 2011, 7 years after finding the issue? And was their investigation timely? Delphi solved the problem in late-2006, why did it take GM until 2013 to confirm the changes and move forward with the recall?

[Ed. Note: Title updated with full text mention]

Phillip Thomas
Phillip Thomas

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  • Zoodles95 Zoodles95 on Feb 28, 2014

    I have owned a 2006 HHR since 2009. I have a "normal" amount of keys on my keychain. To this day the car will shut off going over a particular set of train tracks in my city. Essentially a hard enough bump and the car shuts off. It used to lose the power steering periodically but that was addressed on a previous recall when the local dealership replaced the steering rack. Other than this shutting off issue the HHR has been a good car to me and I am strongly considering another GM product based on how the HHR has been. I hope to get a recall notice so that I can get this ignition issue resolved.

    • See 1 previous
    • Zoodles95 Zoodles95 on Feb 28, 2014

      @Phillip Thomas Cool! Thanks, I will contact my dealer and get this sorted.

  • SteelyMoose SteelyMoose on Feb 28, 2014

    Reflective, analytical discussion or fanboi pi$$ing match? There go 10 minutes of my life I'll never get back.

  • Wjtinfwb Funny. When EV's were bursting onto the scene; Tesla's, Volt's, Leaf's pure EV was all the rage and Hybrids were derided because they still used a gas engine to make them, ahem; usable. Even Volt's were later derided when it was revealed that the Volt's gas engine was actually connected to the wheels, not just a generator. Now, Hybrids are warmly welcomed into the Electric fraternity by virtue of being "electrified". If a change in definition is what it takes, I'm all for it. Hybrid's make so much sense in most American's usage patterns and if needed you can drive one cross-country essentially non-stop. Glad to see Hybrid's getting the love.
  • 3-On-The-Tree We also had a 1973 IH Scout that we rebuilt the engine in and it had dual glass packs, real loud. I miss those days.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Jeff thanks. Back in 1990 we had a 1964 Dodge D100 with a slant six with a 3 on the tree. I taught myself how to drive a standard in that truck. It was my one of many journeys into Mopar land. Had a 1973 Plymouth duster with a slant six and a 1974 Dodge Dart Custom with 318 V8. Great cars and easy to work on.
  • Akear What is GM good at?You led Mary............................................What a disgrace!
  • Randy in rocklin I have a 87 bot new with 200k miles and 3 head gasket jobs and bot another 87 turbo 5 speed with 70k miles and new head gaskets. They cost around 4k to do these days.
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