DETROIT — Emails released in a court case show that General Motors Co. ordered a half-million replacement ignition switches nearly two months before telling the government that its small cars should be recalled because the switches were defective.
The chain of emails between lower-level GM workers and Delphi Corp. shows that GM knew about the deadly switch problem at least as early as Dec. 18, yet it didn't tell the government of the recall until Feb. 7. Also, the order was not mentioned when CEO Mary Barra testified before Congress, nor was it discussed in a GM-funded investigation into its conduct by former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas.
The emails, released Monday by Texas personal injury attorney Robert Hilliard, once again raise questions about what GM knew when, and how forthcoming the company was in congressional testimony and in the Valukas report.
The switches can slip out of the run position, causing engines in cars such as the Chevrolet Cobalt to stall. If that happens, the power steering, brakes and air bags are disabled, and people can lose control of their cars. GM eventually recalled 2.6 million small cars for the problem, which has caused at least 30 deaths.
GM says it is standard procedure to start ordering parts before a recall decision is made.
But Hilliard said GM should have told the government and warned its customers as soon as it knew about the problem. For his clients alone, a warning could have prevented one death and 85 injuries, Hilliard said.
"This pulls the curtain back completely and proves GM has not been forthright," Hilliard said.
Hilliard contends that Barra, who was head of product development and purchasing before becoming CEO, should have known about the purchase of 500,000 new switches at an unbudgeted cost of $2.8 million. "This completely refrains the conversation, the investigation and a re-examination of the truth of Ms. Barra's involvement," he said.