“Sitting here today, I cannot tell you why it took so long for a safety defect to be announced,” General Motors CEO Mary Barra said during her congressional testimony on Monday.
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As Barra mentioned, the saga began over a decade ago, long before her ascension to the post of chief executive officer. The car model most closely associated with the ignition-switch defect is the Chevy Cobalt, but the problem was first detected in 2001, when the Saturn Ion underwent pre-launch testing. During yesterday’s congressional hearings, it was mentioned that the part in question, a product of Delphi Automotive, only cost 57 cents. Delphi officials claim GM approved the ignition switch even though it never met their standards.
The first minor incidents related to the ignition-switch defect were reported in 2003. The problem occurred when drivers bumped the fragile ignition switch – early engineer reports cited short drivers with large keychains as particularly likely to accidentally nudge the switch with their knees. Unfortunately, the result involved the car dropping into “accessory” mode – the setting used when you want to play your radio in a parked car, without turning over the engine. Among the systems disabled in accessory mode are the engine, power steering, power brakes, and airbags.