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Reports: GM Ordered 500,000 Ignition Switches Before Recall Announcement

Newly revealed emails seen by The Wall Street Journal and other news organizations appear to show that automaker General Motors ordered a half-million replacement ignition switches nearly two months before it alerted regulators to a defect in the switches that has since been linked to 32 deaths.

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton has the background for our Newscast unit. Here's what she says:

"GM issued recalls of 2.6 million small cars for defective ignition switches in January and February. The automaker ... admitted it had delayed the recalls for 10 years. GM hired attorney Anton Valukis to investigate how the debacle happened, but his report failed to uncover emails that were sent two months before GM issued its recalls. The emails show a GM contract employee made an 'urgent' order for replacement ignition switches from supplier Delphi in December. A statement from GM says the emails are further confirmation that its recall system needed reform — and those reforms have been accomplished."

The Journal reported that the replacement ignition switches were ordered to fix the Chevrolet Cobalt and other small cars. Here's more from the newspaper's story:

"The emails show Delphi was asked to draw up an aggressive plan of action to produce and ship the parts at the time. In the months that followed, the size of the recall announced Feb. 7 would balloon and spark an auto-safety crisis, casting a shadow over the industry and leading to widespread calls for faster action by auto makers addressing safety concerns."

The Associated Press adds that the defect in some ignition switches caused them to slip out of the run position. The news agency said this caused the engines in some vehicles to stall. When that happens, air bags, brakes and power steering are disabled and drivers could lose control of their vehicles. At least 32 deaths have been attributed to the defect.

GM said it was standard practice to start ordering parts before announcing a recall.

Here's more from the AP:

"[Personal injury attorney] Robert Hilliard contends that [GM CEO Mary] 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 about $3 million. ...

"Barra has previously told Congress that she first learned of the switch problem in late December 2013, and the recall on Jan. 31. Spokesman Alan Adler said Monday the company stands behind Barra's original statements."

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Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.