An auto trade journal says it has identified most of the fatal crashes linked to the General Motors ignition switch recall, and believes eight of the 12 deaths involved cars built before GM made a change to the switch in April 2006
A report published Thursday by Automotive Newssays its research shows seven involved Chevrolet Cobalts, one a Saturn Ion.
In April 2006 the GM engineer responsible for the ignition switches used in the recalled cars "signed a document approving changes to the switch proposed by the supplier Delphi Mechatronics," according to a GM timeline submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as part of the current recall.
The lack of later incidents indicates the 2006 changes made the switch less vulnerable to the recall flaw -- being jarred out of "run," shutting off the engine and disabling the air bags. But there was no recall in 2006 to install the new switch -- a move that might have saved the eight lives noted by Automotive News.
GM has told USA TODAY that it believes the new-design switch began being installed late in 2006, but can't say for sure because, according to its recall timeline, "this change to the switch was not reflected in a corresponding change in the part number for the ignition switch."
Failing to identify the modified -- and apparently safer -- switch with a new part number appears to violate GM policy. It also could violate federal rules if the switch was changed to fix a safety problem but NHTSA wasn't notified.
GM has not identified the engineer, nor said why the engineer took that action.
Last month, GM recalled 1.62 million cars worldwide to replace ignition switches. The list includes 2005-07 Cobalt and 2003-07 Ion, and also Chevrolet HHR, other Saturns and some Pontiac models, which all use the same switch.
GM did assign a new part number to the switch used in 2008 and later models -- which are not part of the recall.
The automaker has refused to provide details of, or even list, the accidents that resulted in the 12 deaths.
It has acknowledged in the timeline filed with NHTSA a July 2005 fatal crash of a Cobalt in Maryland. That crash was identified in a 2007 meeting between GM and NHTSA, according to the timeline.
AutomotiveNews compiled a list of the remaining Cobalt deaths from newly filed lawsuits against GM, other legal documents and accident investigation data. The dates and locations are:
October 2006 in St. Croix County, Wis.October 2007 in Lyndhurst, OhioSeptember 2008 in Berrien County, Mich. (two fatalities)April 2009 near Knox, Pa. (two fatalities)December 2009 near Murfreesboro, Tenn.
The publication also said it identified two of the four Ion fatalities by matching reports in two databases -- Early Warning Reporting data submitted by GM to federal regulators, and entries in NHTSA's separate Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) based on law enforcement crash reports.
AutomotiveNews said one Ion death occurred in Texas in November 2004, and the other in Missouri in February 2009, which was after the 2006 switch change.
It also said FARS lists three more fatalities in frontal crashes of 2004 Ions between 2004 and May 2009, but it could not determine which two GM is counting in the 12. GM told regulators in February that all four Ion deaths it is aware of involved 2004 models.