Chrysler reverses on recall spat with NHTSA
By Larry P. Vellequette, Crain News Service
DETROIT (June 19, 2013) — Chrysler Group L.L.C., saying it has settled a dispute with federal safety officials, agreed to inspect older-model Jeep Grand Cherokee and Liberty SUVs and install a trailer hitch assembly if necessary to "better manage crash forces in low-speed impacts."
The auto maker said June 18 it had reached the agreement after negotiations with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
On June 3, NHTSA requested that Chrysler conduct a recall on 2.7 million remaining 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2002-07 Jeep Libertys, which the agency said had a heightened risk of fire from rear-end collisions.
As part of the agreement, Chrysler will not admit that the vehicles were defective.
In a brief statement, the auto maker said: "Chrysler Group recognizes that this matter has raised concerns for its customers and wants to take further steps, in coordination with NHTSA, to provide additional measures to supplement the safety of its vehicles.
"Chrysler Group regards safety as a paramount concern and does not compromise on the safety of our customers and their families."
On June 18 NHTSA officials commended Chrysler for agreeing to take steps to protect Jeep owners but said it planned to continue studying the matter.
"Consumers impacted by the safety recall and customer satisfaction campaign should have their vehicles serviced promptly once they receive notification from Chrysler," the agency said in a statement. "We will continue our investigation into this issue, pending the agency's review of the documents provided by Chrysler in its recall action."
In its initial response, Chrysler disputed the agency's findings that 1993-2004 Grand Cherokees and 2002-07 Libertys had an increased probability of catching fire when struck from the rear.
Chrysler had asserted that NHTSA's analysis of crash data was flawed and that the two models fared better than several other similar vehicles that had not been targeted for a recall. It also disputed NHTSA's finding that the vehicles suffer from a design defect because their fuel tanks are located behind the rear axle.
The cost of the steps Chrysler agreed to take is unknown, especially since it's unclear how many of the 2.7 million recalled SUVs remaining on the road will qualify for the added trailer hitch. Vehicles with a factory-installed hitch assembly, or an aftermarket model made by Mopar, will not need to be modified, a Chrysler spokesman said.
Chrysler's initial response to NHTSA was being watched closely across the industry by auto makers who were concerned that if NHTSA prevailed it could force other auto makers to update much older vehicles to make them safer.
Clarence Ditlow, of the Center for Auto Safety, has been calling on Chrysler to recall the vehicles since 2010.
He said June 18 that he was reviewing Chrysler's agreement with NHTSA and was not yet prepared to comment.
Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, said Chrysler likely recognized the danger to its reputation in openly defying NHTSA.
"Consumers have been forgiving when manufacturers have chosen to comply with NHTSA requests in recent years and now that Chrysler has softened their stance, they should escape any negative impact to their brand," Mr. Gutierrez said.
Chrysler's approximately 2,300 dealerships are likely to see added service work from the agreement with NHTSA, as they will be tasked with installing the trailer hitches.
Gary Brown, head of the Chrysler National Dealer Council and a dealer on New York's Long Island, said he hadn't heard much from customers about the dispute between Chrysler and NHTSA, but he's glad it's over.
"It's going to make us busy, no doubt about that," installing the trailer hitches, Brown said. "But I'm glad to see that the corporation and NHTSA were able to work things out and keep the public safe."
This report appeared on the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.
June 18, 2013, Auburn Hills, Mich. — Chrysler Group L.L.C. and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have resolved their differences with respect to NHTSA's request to recall 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2002-07 Jeep Liberty vehicles.
As a result of the agreement, Chrysler Group will conduct a voluntary campaign with respect to the vehicles in question that, in addition to a visual inspection of the vehicle will, if necessary, provide an upgrade to the rear structure of the vehicle to better manage crash forces in low-speed impacts.
Chrysler Group's analysis of the data confirms that these vehicles are not defective and are among the safest in the peer group. Nonetheless, Chrysler Group recognizes that this matter has raised concerns for its customers and wants to take further steps, in coordination with NHTSA, to provide additional measures to supplement the safety of its vehicles.
Chrysler Group regards safety as a paramount concern and does not compromise on the safety of our customers and their families.
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