General Motors has fired 15 of its top people over a deadly ignition scandal.

A failing electrical component was known for years among top executives at GM, but the automaker only initiated a recall after a recent federal investigation.

It is unclear who the 15 executives were, or which part of the massive company they came from.

GM has admitted responsibility for more than 30 accidents, wherein the ignition problem led to 13 deaths.

Some insiders have speculated that this is only the number of accidents and deaths that GM could not adequately distance itself from.

The independent Centre for Auto Safety in the US says it has tallied over 300 deaths from airbag non-deployment in the GM cars covered by the ignition recall.

Dealing with the fallout from over a decade of failure to report this issue alone, new GM CEO Mary Barra called the case “deeply troubling”.

In a statement many considered obvious, she said GM needed to take responsibility for the problem it caused.

“We have to own this problem,” she said.

But the CEO insisted there was no formal cover-up, just ten years of independent failure and mismanagement.

“Pieces of information and clues did not get put together. No-one took responsibility,” Barra said.

The company was fined $US35 million after the US Federal Court found it failed to disclose defects to officials for four years.

Reports very strongly suggest the period of non-disclosure was much longer than this.

GM faces much more legal action over the defects and failure to disclose them, with compensation estimates that could run into the billions.

The car-maker has recalled a total of 15 million vehicles this year.

GM has not said how it will distribute the $US35 million compensation order, but has assured shareholders that it is investigating a way.