Source: The New York Times By HILARY STOUT
Nearly two months before notifying federal regulators and the public that it was recalling cars with a dangerously defective ignition switch, General Motors placed an urgent order for 500,000 replacement switches, emails to its supplier Delphi Automotive show.
The emails were sent on Dec. 18, 2013, a day after a crucial committee met to discuss the switch issue but declined to order a recall. Despite the official inaction, a G.M. employee sent an email to Delphi the next day requesting the half-million replacement parts for â€œan urgent field action for our customers.â€
The emails were turned over by Delphi during discovery in sweeping class-action litigation against the automaker and were released to the press by Robert C. Hilliard, one of the three lead attorneys for plaintiffs in the case.
The existence of the emails was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Delphi employees seemed confused by the size and the urgency of the order, and noted that the previous request for the part, the previous year, was for about 11,000 switches.
â€œYes, it is a huge increase,â€ Sarah Missentzis, a G.M. contractor, noted in correspondence with Delphi the next day. But she added, â€œI would need to start seeing shipments ASAP.â€
G.M. has since recalled 2.6 million cars for the defective switch, beginning in early February, and has acknowledged that some engineers and others in the company knew of the flaw for more than a decade.
The automaker reacted to the disclosure of the emails with a statement noting steps that it has taken in the aftermath of the ignition-switch recall to ensure quicker and closer attention to safety issues.
â€œThese emails are further confirmation that our system needed reform, and we have done so,â€ said the G.M. statement. â€œWe have reorganized our entire safety investigation and decision process and have more investigators, move issues more quickly and make decisions with better data.â€
G.M. is facing multiple investigations, including a federal criminal inquiry, over its delay in fixing a safety problem that has now been linked to at least 32 deaths.
Mary T. Barra, who took over as G.M.'s chief executive in January, has said she did not learn of the ignition-switch defect until a committee decided that month to recall the cars. But the size and expense of the order, $2.6 million, in mid-December raises questions about who approved it and why the company continued to delay ordering an official recall of the cars.
The defective switch can, if jostled or bumped, shift to off or â€œaccessoryâ€ mode without warning, causing a moving car to stall in traffic. The loss of power can deactivate the airbag system and impede power steering and brakes. G.M. has repeatedly said that the cars are safe to drive if nothing but the car key is on the ring, but in not making the problem public when it ordered the replacement parts, G.M. did not disseminate that information.
Mr. Hilliard found the emails among some four million documents contained in a depository set up for discovery in federal multi-district litigation against the automaker presided over by Judge Jesse M. Furman of the Southern District of New York. All documents in the depository are designated confidential but Judge Furman had set up a process to challenge the confidentiality. Mr. Hilliard said he did that and obtained permission from Delphi to declassify the emails.
The Texas lawyer said he and his staff had scoured the database for the same correspondence and other related documents submitted by G.M. and had found nothing.
â€œI havenâ€™t seen one document yet from G.M. that will fill out the story,â he said.