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U.S. regulators are investigating why General Motors Co. (GM) took years to recall 1.6 million cars over an ignition-switch defect linked to 13 deaths in crashes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced the probe yesterday in an e-mailed statement. The agency could fine GM as much as $35 million, which would be the most ever by the agency, if it finds the largest U.S. automaker failed to pursue a recall when it knew the cars were defective.

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