By Keith Crain
DETROIT (June 24, 2013) — Three weeks ago it looked like Chrysler Group L.L.C. was about to go to war with the U.S. government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
NHTSA wanted Chrysler to recall 2.7 million Jeeps, and Chrysler said no. Not only were the Jeeps too old and had met existing safety standards at the time they were produced, but there was nothing wrong with them.
It quickly became a bit of a hotbed, and it looked like there would be a substantial and lengthy legal battle.
But as quickly as it escalated, it disappeared with Chrysler agreeing to recall many of the vehicles in question, after a reported June 9 airport meeting involving Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and NHTSA chief David Strickland.
Many folks are not satisfied with the solution, but Chrysler says installing a trailer hitch will satisfy NHTSA.
Meanwhile the question we thought might get answered—whether older vehicles that met applicable safety standards must be recalled—remains out there for the next safety issue with older cars.
It may well be that NHTSA should consider adopting the aircraft industry's policy. When the Federal Aviation Administration determines that a safety issue with a particular model is serious enough, it issues an airworthiness directive to aircraft owners and operators, telling them to take some action, regardless of how old the aircraft is.
But with aircraft, the owners and operators pay for the fix, not the manufacturer. It solves the problem and might make a lot of sense for safety issues on automobiles that are older.
To many people's surprise, Chrysler gave up the fight on Jeeps quickly. The company announced that it would accept the recall and with some modification would comply with NHTSA's request.
Jeep is perhaps the best known automotive brand in the world. Chrysler must have received a lot of quick feedback from dealers suggesting as strongly as possible that it would not be a good idea to leave this potential blemish out there for an indefinite period while it was being adjudicated, maybe for years.
They must have realized Jeep was far too valuable to mess with.
Chrysler made the right call. Although the auto maker had to be feeling a bit pressured to give in, it would not have been wise to risk messing with the strongest brand in the stable.
Someday this issue will end up in court. In the meantime, Chrysler made the right call.
Keith Crain is editor-in-chief of Automotive News, Tire Business' Detroit-based sister publication for which he wrote this column. He also is chairman of Crain Communications Inc., TB's parent company.