WASHINGTON – General Motors has suspended two engineers with pay for their part in the company’s long failure to recall Chevrolet Cobalts and other small cars equipped with a defective ignition switch linked to 13 deaths, the automaker said Thursday.
GM chief executive Mary Barra said the two had been placed on leave after a briefing from Anton Valukas, a former federal prosecutor leading an internal investigation into circumstances leading to the recall.
The engineers were not named.
This is an interim step as we seek the truth about what happened, Barra said in a statement. It was a difficult decision, but I believe it is best for GM.
Later Thursday, GM said it is expanding its ignition switch repair to include the replacement of lock cylinders for the 2.6 million vehicles being recalled. The company said faulty lock cylinders can allow ignition keys to be removed while a vehicle is running, raising the risk of rollaways and crashes.
GM, which has an Allen County truck assembly plant, said it knows of several hundred complaints of keys coming out of ignitions and one case where the problem resulted in a crash and an injury claim. The company said it knows of no deaths linked to the problem.
Barra faced a barrage of questions in congressional hearings last week about the recall, which began more than a decade after the company first noticed problems with the ignition switches.
The work of GM engineer Ray DeGiorgio came in for especially harsh scrutiny after Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., accused him of lying under oath during a deposition last year in a civil case brought by the family of a Cobalt crash victim.
McCaskill said DeGiorgio had switched out the unsafe ignition switches in several models in 2006 then covered it up by using the same part number for the new switch.
Documents GM turned over to Congress indicated that DeGiorgio approved a design change in 2006 that made the ignition switch less susceptible to being inadvertently turned off.
Asked by McCaskill whether DeGiorgio had lied under oath, Barra hedged. That angered lawmakers, who called on Barra to fire the engineer. In a statement Thursday, McCaskill called the suspensions long overdue.