June 26, 2014 at 10:38 pm

Delphi turns over documents to grand jury in switch probe

Washington —Troy-based auto supplier Delphi Corp. has turned over hundreds of pages of documents to a federal grand jury investigating General Motors Co.’s delay of a recall of 2.6 million vehicles linked to at least 13 deaths and 54 crashes, records released Thursday show.

Delphi built the suspect switch that didn’t meet GM’s specifications after a now-fired GM engineer, Ray DeGiorgio signed off on the parts. A GM report found that no one else within GM knew the parts didn’t meet specifications when they were approved in 2002, or that the part was improved in 2006 without getting a new part number.

Delphi spokeswoman Claudia Tapia said in an email that “Delphi has been cooperating with all government agencies to provide any requested information.”

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday made public 80 new emails and other documents turned over to the committee by GM and Delphi that show the Detroit automaker struggled for years to try to understand and identify an ignition switch defect that led to air bags failing to deploy in front-end crashes if the key was in the “off” or “accessory” mode.

Many detail other debates within GM over a decade about ways to improve the switch.

House Oversight and Investigations panel chair Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., and House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said the documents raise more questions. GM has turned over more than 1 million pages to the committee, which held a hearing last week with GM CEO Mary Barra at which some of the documents were discussed.

“The documents that we have received to date paint a disturbing and devastating picture, a beyond-worst-case systemic breakdown that led to lives needlessly lost. But as the recalls mount, important questions remain and our investigation continues into both GM and NHTSA,” the congressmen said.

The newly released records include Delphi documents stamped that the documents were turned over to the Justice Department under a grand jury subpoena and that confidential treatment was sought. The documents suggest that Delphi has turned over at least 1,000 pages to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York, which is leading the investigation into the switches.

A Delphi engineer, Erik Mattson, told DeGiorgio in Feburary 2002 that if the ignition switch were strengthened — which would make it less likely to slip out of position — that it could damage the switch because the driver would need more force to turn the key and it could wear out faster. Delphi also worried the stronger switch could have electrical problems. DeGiorgio said in a follow-up email to “do nothing ... maintain present course.”

One GM document — a memo from GM’s vice president of global engineering John Calabrese to GM’s senior vice president for global quality Alicia Boler Davis — noted that Delphi was a “self-certified supplier, which required less oversight.” The memo, apparently from 2013, said that future ignition switch designs “are migrating to push-button start.”

GM has previously disclosed it has received grand jury subpoenas. The automaker has turned over thousands of pages of records.

“As we have said before, we are fully cooperating and will continue to do so,” GM spokesman Greg Martin said.

One email showed the intense frustration over the delay in 2009 over a plan to change the key hole in the Cobalt that would create less leverage to knock the switch out of the “run” position. “Gentleman! This issue has been around since man first lumbered out of sea and stood on two feet,’” wrote Joseph R. Manson, a GM employee.