GM knew of ignition defect a decade ago, report says

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General Motors knew a decade ago about the ignition problems that triggered last week's recall of compact cars, according to a newspaper report that cites documents in a civil lawsuit against GM.

GM said last week that it's recalling more than 778,000 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 cars in North America after several deaths were linked to faulty ignition switches that may have caused engines to stall and air bags to malfunction.

USA Today reported Wednesday that GM knew about the defects in 2004.

GM acknowledged the problem in a 2005 technical service bulletin that advised dealers to install a snap-on key cover for customers who complained, but didn't require the dealers to install the part on new Cobalts before they were sold, the newspaper said.

GM said it knows of 22 related crashes and at least six deaths involving frontal-impact accidents in which air bags didn't deploy.

USA Today reported that according to documents it obtained from a lawsuit against GM over a Georgia crash that killed pediatric nurse Brooke Melton, at least one GM engineer encountered a problem while testing the new car, which arrived on the market in 2004 as a 2005 model.

Gary Altman, program engineering manager for the Cobalt during its development, said in a deposition last June that while the modification listed in the bulletins was an "improvement, it was not a fix to the issue," the paper said.

Lance Cooper, lawyer for Melton's estate, told USA Today that Melton had taken her vehicle to the dealership for ignition switch problems, but did not receive the modification.

GM settled the lawsuit by Melton's estate, but wouldn't comment further because of litigation still pending against the dealer, spokesman Alan Adler said.

Messages left for Cooper by Automotive News weren't immediately returned.

The recall covers 619,122 cars from the 2005 to 2007 model years in the U.S., along with 153,310 in Canada and 6,130 in Mexico. Dealers will replace ignition switches on affected cars, GM said.

You can reach Andrew Thurlow at athurlow@crain.com.

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