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WASHINGTON - General Motors said it will pay the maximum $35 million fine to the U.S. Department of Transportation for delaying the recall of 2003-2011 small cars with a potentially deadly igniton switch defect.

DOT plans an announcement this mornning with more details.

The fine amounts to a record, because Transportation and its National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstraiton have been limited to about $16 million until now.

GM told NHTSA Feb. 7 that it was recalling 619,122 of its 2005-2007 Chevrolet Cobalt and 2007 Pontiac G5 small cars. Feb. 25 it expanded the recall by another 748,024 vehciles to include 2006-2007 Chevy HHR and Pontaic Solstice, 2003-2007 Saturn Ion, 2007 Sturn Ion. That pushed the total to nearly 1.4 million.

Others were added as GM tried to include all vehciles with similar switches. The recall for the switch problem now totals 2.6 million vehicles.

GM documents show it knew in 2001 there could be a problem with the key moving unexpectedly out of "run" into "accessory." That shuts off the enigne, kills power assist to the steering and brakes, and usually disables airbags.

It happened to a GM engineer testing a vehicle. A techinician reported a similar problem in 2003. And in 2004 a ranking GM small-car engineer had the switch problem in the Chevrolet Cobalt during final development.

GM says it knows of 12 deaths and 46 accidents in the U.S. linkedto the probolem, and one fatal crash in Canada.

In a statment, GM CEO Mary Barra said, "We have learned a great deal from this recall. We will now focus on the goal of becoming an industry leader in safety. We will emerge from this situation a stronger company."

GM still faces a probe by the Justice Department into whether there was a crminal vilolation.

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