A General Motors vice president in charge of product development was aware of an ignition switch defect that prevented airbags from inflating a decade before the affected vehicles were recalled, documents show.
In an email dated June 27, 2005, Chevrolet Cobalt engineering chief Ray DeGiorgio suggested he had discussed the problem with Doug Parks, then chief engineer on the Cobalt and now vice president of global product development.
The Cobalt was among 2.6 million vehicles recalled in February that were equipped with the defective part.
The glitch has been linked to 54 accidents and at least 13 deaths, according to GM.
“Here is an update of our review w/Doug at Milford,” DeGiorgio told another GM employee in the email titled “UPDATE: GMX001 Ignition Cylinder Changes – Unintentional Turning Off Engine.”
The email was released by the Energy and Commerce Committee of the US House of Representatives.
An internal GM investigation exonerated the leadership in early June, concluding that management was only made aware of the mechanical problem in December 2013.
American firms often name a dozen different employees vice president, and they are not necessarily part of the group’s top leaders.
At GM, spokespeople hold the title without at the same time being tasked with the company’s executive decision-making.
GM has fired 15 employees over the recall, most engineers and company lawyers, and launched disciplinary procedures against another five.
Investigations by Congress, the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are still underway.
Prominent lawyer Ken Feinberg, who has been hired by GM, is due to announce on Monday a compensation fund for victims, a spokesman told AFP.
The case is then due to go before the courts, where a dozen complaints have already been filed against the car maker.
In February – 10 years after an ignition switch defect was detected – GM recalled 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and Skys, Pontiac 5s and Solstices made between 2003 and 2011.