The U.S. government fined General Motors Co. a record $35 million for waiting too long to tell safety regulators about a problem with ignition switches in small cars.
Here are key events in GM’s recall of 2.6 million vehicles for the switch defect, which can cause the car to stall and deactivate the air bags. GM links the defect to 13 deaths.
2001: A report notes problems with the ignition switches in the Saturn Ion while still in development, but says a design change solved the problems.
February 2002: GM approves the ignition switch design, even though the supplier says the switch doesn’t meet GM’s specifications.
Late 2004: The Ion’s cousin, the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt, goes on sale.
March 2005: The engineering manager of the Cobalt closes an investigation into ignition switch problems, saying that proposed fixes would take too long and cost too much, and that “none of the solutions represents an acceptable business case.”
May 2005: A proposal to change the design of the key so it won’t tug the ignition switch downward is initially approved but later cancelled.
July 29, 2005: Amber Marie Rose, 16, dies in a frontal crash in her 2005 Cobalt. A contractor hired by NHTSA found that the Cobalt’s ignition had moved out of the “run” position and into the “accessory” position, which cut off power to the power steering the air bags.
December 2005: GM tells dealers to inform owners of Cobalts to take excess items off their key chains. Also, inserts placed on customers’ keys can prevent the keys from shifting while in the ignition. The bulletin names five models, including the Ion and Cobalt. Warranty records show that only 474 owners got the key inserts.
April 2006: A GM engineer signs off on a redesign of the ignition switch. The new switch goes into cars from the 2007 model year and later.
April 2007: A study of a 2006 Wisconsin crash in which two passengers died finds the ignition in the 2005 Cobalt was in the accessory position and the air bags didn’t deploy.
November 2007: A NHTSA panel declines to open a formal investigation into why air bags didn’t deploy in some Cobalt and Ion crashes.
December 2007: By year end, GM has data on nine crashes. In four of them, the ignition had moved from the run position to the accessory position.
2010: After a NHTSA investigation, GM agrees to repair power steering motors in more than 1 million 2005-2010 Chevrolet Cobalts and 2007-2010 Pontiac G5s.
May 2012: A GM investigation finds that the torque performance in switches from 2003-2007 model year vehicles doesn’t match its specifications, but performance in later models does. It doesn’t know why. The next year GM learns that the switch was redesigned in 2006.
December 2013: Mary Barra learns about the ignition switch defect.
February 2013: In two separate actions, GM recalls 1.6 million small cars, including Cobalts and Ions, to repair defective ignition switches. The recall later grows to 2.6 million cars.
March 5: NHTSA demands GM documents showing when it found out about the ignition switch problem. Barra promises employees an “unvarnished” investigation into what happened.
March 10 — Barra orders an internal investigation. AP confirms a Justice Department criminal probe.
March 17 — GM announces three new recalls of 1.5 million vehicles.
March 18 — Barra apologizes for the deaths that occurred. She appoints a new global safety chief.
March 31 — GM recalls 1.5 million vehicles, including the 2010 Cobalt and the 2004-2007 Ion, for a power-steering assist problem.
April 1-2 — Barra, NHTSA acting chief David Friedman testify before Congressional committees. Barra says GM has hired compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg to explore ways to compensate victims’ families.
April 7 — GM says ignition switch repairs could take until October.
April 10 — GM suspends two engineers with pay in the first disciplinary action linked to the recalls.
April 22 — GM adds 35 product safety investigators and restructures its engineering operations. John Calabrese, GM’s vice president of global vehicle engineering, retires.
April 22 — GM asks U.S. bankruptcy court to shield it from lawsuits from owners who claim their cars have lost value because of the recall.
April 24 — GM’s first-quarter profit falls 86 percent due to a $1.3 billion charge for the recalls. GM also discloses a probe by federal securities regulators.
May 2 — Feinberg confirms he discussed compensation with a lawyer who represents victims’ families.
May 5 — Jim Federico, who headed safety, vehicle performance and test labs for GM, retires.
May 15 — GM recalls another 2.7 million cars for various safety issues, bringing the total U.S. recalls to 11.2 million. GM will take a related $200 million charge
May 16 — The U.S. government fines GM with a record $35 million fine for failing for more than a decade to disclose problems with the ignition switches. GM agrees to report safety problems faster and consents to government oversight of its safety operations.
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