General Motors ordered a half-million replacement ignition switches nearly two months before alerting regulators to a defect with the part now linked to 30 deaths, the Wall Street Journal reported.
GM, which is embroiled in lawsuits over the ignition switch, began its recall of some 2.6 million cars in February.
However the US carmaker placed an “urgent” order for 500,000 replacement ignition switches on December 18, one day after a meeting of senior executives, the Journal said Sunday, citing emails between GM and its supplier Delphi Automotive.
Delphi produced the emails during preparations for a court trial set to begin in January 2016. The new information is sure to feed speculation that GM delayed the recall as long as possible, the Journal said.
Those eligible to sue include GM customers whose accidents came after the US auto giant emerged from bankruptcy in 2009. GM is under fire over the defect in many models sold from 1998-2011 in which the faulty ignition system could turn off power to a car’s power steering and safety airbags while it is in motion.
GM realised in 2003 there were problems with the switches, but it would be years before it became aware they were linked to deaths, the Journal said.
Now confronted with a mountain of lawsuits, GM has already set up a compensation fund for victims, with plans to pay $1 million per fatality plus $300,000 (R3 360 900) to each surviving spouse and possible beneficiary.
Since the ignition switch defect came to light, GM has also recalled 30 million vehicles worldwide for other problems.