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Parts supplier is scrutinized in GM safety flaw

First Published      Last Updated Jun 27 2014 02:47 pm

Senate investigators are widening the scope of the inquiry into General Motors' decadelong failure to recall cars with a defective ignition switch to also focus on the supplier that made the flawed part.

The supplier, Delphi, did not permit its employees to be interviewed by Anton R. Valukas, the former U.S. attorney who conducted an internal inquiry into GM's handling of the switch problem and this month produced a scathing report on the automaker's corporate culture.

But the Senate Commerce Committee, which has the power to subpoena witnesses, unlike Valukas' company-financed investigation, is expected to make Delphi a subject of a hearing soon. The hearing has not yet been scheduled.

Delphi employees have had informal meetings with congressional staff members, according to a person briefed on the matter.

The forum would be the first substantial public inquiry into the company's role in a safety issue that has led to a half-dozen federal and state investigations, hundreds of lawsuits and virulent public criticism. In two previous hearings before a House subcommittee, Delphi and its role in the safety crisis largely escaped scrutiny.

Scores of documents made public by a House committee Thursday contain a number of exchanges between GM engineers and Delphi employees over an ignition switch that both parties recognized as below standard.

The force needed to turn it, or torque, was so low that it could, if jostled or bumped, suddenly switch off the power of a moving car, disabling air bags and impeding power brakes and power steering.

GM now links the defect to at least 13 deaths and 54 accidents and has recalled 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other small cars as a result.

The documents indicate that multiple Delphi employees knew that the lead switch engineer, Raymond DeGiorgio, who has been dismissed, had signed off on an upgrade to the ignition switch in 2006 without recording the change with a new part number.

One Delphi document from April 2006 said, "Ray DeGiorgio agrees to implement" a new switch "without changing" the GM part number.

Delphi did not immediately return a request for comment.

Another document identifies a GM employee, Dan Fernandez, as a recipient of an email about a "proposed action" by Delphi that would "increase torque force" in a revised switch.