WASHINGTON — General Motors Co. has suspended two engineers with pay for their part in the company’s failure to recall Chevrolet Cobalts and other small cars equipped with a defective ignition switch linked to 13 deaths, the automaker said Thursday.
Mary Barra, GM’s chief executive, said two engineers were placed on leave after a briefing from Anton Valukas, a former federal prosecutor leading an internal company investigation into circumstances leading to the recall. The statement did not name the engineers.
“This is an interim step as we seek the truth about what happened,” Ms. Barra said.
GM later said it was expanding its ignition switch repair to include the replacement of lock cylinders for the 2.6 million vehicles. 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.
The company 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 fatalities linked to the problem.
Ms. Barra faced a barrage of questions in hearings last week about GM’s slow recall, which began more than a decade after the company first noticed problems with the ignition switches.
The work of a GM engineer came in for especially harsh scrutiny after a lawmaker accused him of lying under oath during a deposition last year in a civil case brought by the family of a Cobalt crash victim. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.), who chaired a Senate subcommittee hearing into the matter, said flatly that engineer Ray 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 Mr. DeGiorgio approved a design change in 2006 that made the ignition switch less susceptible to being inadvertently turned off, which makes a car more difficult to steer and to stop.
Asked by Senator McCaskill whether Mr. DeGiorgio had lied under oath, Ms. Barra hedged. “The data that’s been put in front of me indicates that, but I’m waiting for the full investigation,” she said. “I want to be fair.”
The answer angered lawmakers, who called on Ms. Barra to fire the engineer. Senator McCaskill called the suspensions long overdue.
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