By Ryan Beene, Crain News Service
WASHINGTON (Sept. 30, 2015) — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has found “significant” under-reporting of deaths and injuries possibly linked to safety defects in its vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Sept. 29.
FCA informed NHTSA in late July that an internal investigation revealed the company had under-reported claims and notices of deaths and injuries to the agency as required by U.S. law, NHTSA said.
The auto maker began the probe after NHTSA notified FCA of an “apparent discrepancy” in the Early Warning Reporting data that all auto makers submit to the agency on a quarterly basis.
“This represents a significant failure to meet a manufacturer's safety responsibilities,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said in a statement. “NHTSA will take appropriate action after gathering additional information on the scope and causes of this failure.”
In a statement, FCA said it promptly notified NHTSA of its findings and is keeping the agency informed as its investigation continues. “FCA U.S. takes this issue extremely seriously, and will continue to cooperate with NHTSA to resolve this matter and ensure these issues do not re-occur,” the company said in a statement.
An FCA spokesman declined to comment beyond the company's statement.
Since July, FCA has been operating under a consent decree with federal auto safety regulators stemming from a NHTSA probe into violations involving 23 safety recalls since 2009. Under the pact, FCA pledged a revamp of its recall and defect practices and agreed to hire an independent monitor with broad authority to hire staff and investigate safety issues. In its statement, FCA said the under-reported death and injury claims were found as a result of the heightened scrutiny created by the consent order.
Mr. Rosekind said early information suggests that FCA's under-reporting was caused by “a number of problems with FCA's systems for gathering and reporting EWR data.”
The Early Warning Reporting system — created by the 2000 TREAD Act that followed the Ford-Firestone tire recalls — was intended to identify vehicle defects early, before they become broad threats to public safety and prompt massive, costly recalls for manufacturers.
But an audit of NHTSA in June found big deficiencies in the system, including inconsistencies in reporting standards among auto makers and haphazard reviews of data by agency investigators. Mr. Rosekind has pledged to improve the system.
Earlier this year, American Honda was fined $70 million and agreed to stricter additional oversight after admitting in November 2014 that it failed to report to NHTSA more than 1,700 deaths and injuries that may have been linked to potential defects in its cars.
This report appeared on the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.