General Motors had already known in 2004 about the ignition issue that prompted last week's recall of compact cars, USA Today has reported, citing documents in a civil lawsuit against GM. GM is recalling over 778,000 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 cars in North America as several deaths were connected to faulty ignition switches that may have caused their engines to stall and air bags to malfunction.
The paper said that GM acknowledged the issue in a 2005 technical service bulletin that advised dealers to install a snap-on key cover for customers who complained. GM, however, didn't require dealers to install the part on new Cobalts before they were sold.
According to GM, it knows of 22 related crashes and at least six deaths involving frontal-impact accidents in which the airbags in the vehicles failed to deploy. A lawsuit was filed against GM over a Georgia crash that led to the death of Brooke Melton.
According to the document, at least one GM engineer encountered the issue while testing the new car, which was rolled out in 2004 as a 2005 model. Gary Altman, program engineering manager for the Cobalt during its development, said in a deposition in June 2013 that although the modification listed in GM’s bulletins was an "improvement, it was not a fix to the issue."
Lance Cooper, lawyer for Melton's estate, told USA Today that while Melton had taken her unit to the dealership for ignition switch issues, there was no modification that occurred. GM spokesman Alan Adler said that the carmaker settled the lawsuit by Melton's estate. Litigation against the dealer, however, is still pending.