NEW YORK – General Motors Co. has agreed to sign a deferred-prosecution agreement to end a U.S. government investigation into its handling of an ignition-switch defect linked to 124 deaths, a source told Reuters.
The company will pay less than the $1.2 billion that Toyota Motor Corp. paid to resolve a similar case, the source said. The exact amount and terms were not immediately known.
The deal means GM will be charged criminally with hiding the defect from regulators and in the process defrauding consumers, but the case will be put on hold while GM fulfills terms of the deal, the source said.
GM declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for U.S. prosecutors in New York.
The settlement is a milestone in a case that drove a transformation in the once cozy relationship between the auto industry and U.S. government regulators.
GM Chief Executive Mary Barra in 2014 undertook a series of actions to atone for the ignition switch failure, including appointing a new safety czar, overhauling GM’s product engineering organization, and pushing out 15 executives.
GM also recalled more than 30 million vehicles in North America in 2014 to fix a wide array of defects.
The ignition switches on Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other GM vehicles could cause engines to stall, which in turn prevented air bags from deploying during crashes. Also, power steering and power brakes did not operate when the ignition switch unexpectedly moved from the “on” position.