In recent months, General Motors has received scathing critique for its handling of a design flaw affecting multiple Chevrolet, Pontiac and Saturn models produced over several years. At issue is a faulty ignition switch that, if jostled, cuts power to the engine, deactivating airbags and other features of affected vehicles. The problem was brought to light by Florida engineer Mark Hood, who discovered that newer ignitions with the same part number differed from the original design and required significantly more force to turn.
Subsequent investigation has determined that G.M. approved a new ignition switch design in 2006 and quietly implemented it without recalling vehicles subject to ignition failure. Inquiries by a federal agency, Congress and the media have revealed that G.M. has been aware of problems with the switch design for more than a decade but hid them from outsiders. The company now admits it has known about the problem since 2001, has acknowledged at least thirteen deaths related to the flaw, and has recalled millions of vehicles.