July 17, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Delphi CEO defends role in producing GM ignition switch

Washington — Delphi Automotive CEO Rodney O’Neal defended the auto supplier’s role in building a defective switch saying it was General Motors’ decision to set the requirements for the part now linked to 13 deaths and 54 crashes, but said it was reviewing its procedures.

O’Neal, who testified Thursday before a Senate Commerce panel, also said it has ramped up production of replacement ignition switch kits in Mexico, which now has four lines running in Mexico to build the parts.

“The vehicles that were recalled went out of production several years ago. As a result, it is a monumental task to build over 2 million ignition switches in a matter of months,” he said. “We ordered new tooling, we installed three new production lines (for a total of four lines), and we trained additional workers.”

O’Neal told the commitee that it was GM’s decision to use the executed specifications. He said Delphi didn’t bear the responsibility — and GM CEO Mary Barra agreed that it was the automaker — who bought the part — that is responsible.

“As GM acknowledges, before production started, GM knowingly approved a final design that included less torque than the original target. In our view, that approval established the final specification. Delphi then began producing the switch that GM approved and wanted,” he said. “For the vehicles that are the focus of this hearing, GM relied upon several suppliers for an ignition system. Our only contribution was the switch. Delphi did not supply the key or the lock cylinder (the part that actually holds the key). Delphi did not supply the steering column or determine where the lock cylinder would be located.”

O’Neal hadn’t previously spoken publicly before about the issue and Delphi has answered few questions.

GM had responsibility for “ensuring that complete systems work together properly. In this case, that was not Delphi,” he said.

The Troy-based unit of a United Kingdom holding company said it is reviewing its own procedures. Delphi was spun off by GM in 1999.

“We have conducted a thorough review of our current policies and procedures. We believe they are robust, but we are always working to continuously improve them,” O’Neal said. “Delphi’s Chief Technology Officer has personally reinforced with our global engineering team the importance of promptly raising concerns so that they can be handled.... We have strengthened our procedures to ensure that safety concerns we discover during the development or manufacture of our products are immediately communicated across all relevant functions within our company, including to our senior management team, and to our customers, and that all such concerns are acted upon in a timely manner.”

He said Delphi has built more than 1 million new switches, and “we are on track to deliver more than 2 million switches by the end of August.”

GM’s internal report noted that Delphi refused to make its employees available to answer questions from Anton Valukas, the former U.S. attorney from Chicago. O’Neal defended Delphi, saying it has “cooperated with GM in all aspects of the recall and its investigation. Our cooperation includes entering into a reciprocal document sharing agreement, and we have provided relevant documentation in accordance with that agreement.”

Valukas said he is now satisfied with Delphi’s cooperation.

Delphi has also met “multiple times with this subcommittee’s staff and other governmental bodies,” he said.

In an interview this week, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said she had agreed to call O’Neal because Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., the top Republican on the panel, wanted to hear from him.

“You don’t complete the GM story without Delphi’s part of it,” Heller told reporters last week. Delphi “has been a little hesitant to come forward, and I don’t think they’re to blame.”

Also testifying are GM CEO Mary Barra, the company’s general counsel Mike Millikin, Valukas and GM victim compensation adviser Ken Feinberg.