The NHTSA And Chrysler. Or: Some Pigs Are More Equal

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

In a letter sent (“VIA FEDERAL EXPRESS AND ELECTRONIC MAIL”) to Chrysler on Monday, the NHTSA requests that “Chrysler initiate a safety recall on MY 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee and MY 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty vehicles and implement a remedy action that improves their performance in rear-impacts and crashes.” The NHTSA illustrated its request with pictures of burned-out Jeeps, some of which are in this article.

Yesterday, Chrysler sent out a press release, stating that it “does not agree with NHTSA’s conclusions and does not intend to recall the vehicles cited in the investigation.” It is very rare that an automaker flat out denies such a request, especially one that documents scores of deaths. This is not an article about whether Chrysler is right or wrong. This is a story about curious double standards at the NHTSA.

In 2009, the Center for Auto Safety requested that the NHTSA look into all 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee with a fuel tank behind the real axle.” Three and a half years later, the NHTSA came to the conclusion, that “there have been at least 32 fatal rear impact fire crashes involving Grand Cherokees resulting in 44 deaths,” along with at least 5 fatal rear impact crashes that have resulted in 7 deaths.” The NHTSA says that after the Pinto and Bobcat disasters of the 70s (which had about half the deaths of the Jeeps) automakers learned and put the gas tank “in less vulnerable locations than behind the rear axle.”

That insight was lost on Chrysler. The WJ Grand Cherokee, built from 1999 through MY 2004, “was configured with a fuel tank located behind the rear axle,” says the NHTSA. What’s more, “the MY 2002 through 2007 Liberty has a fuel tank located aft of the rear axle and less than a foot forward of the aft face of the rear bumper.” All that “contravened industry trends,” the NHTSA opines.

Chrysler says the NHTSA is wrong, and that the agency’s “initial conclusions are based on an incomplete analysis of the underlying data.”

The NHTSA countered with a milquetoast statement. NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said that “NHTSA hopes that Chrysler will reconsider its position and take action to protect its customers and the driving public.”

Why Chrysler is digging in its heels is anybody’s guess. Relocating the fuel tank of 2.7 million SUVs is out of the question. However, the Center for Auto Safety estimates it would cost “Chrysler no more than $300 million to install a 3 millimeter steel skid, a fuel tank check valve and better fuel filler hose,” says CNN. Nothing doing, says Chrysler.

Bertel Schmitt
Bertel Schmitt

Bertel Schmitt comes back to journalism after taking a 35 year break in advertising and marketing. He ran and owned advertising agencies in Duesseldorf, Germany, and New York City. Volkswagen A.G. was Bertel's most important corporate account. Schmitt's advertising and marketing career touched many corners of the industry with a special focus on automotive products and services. Since 2004, he lives in Japan and China with his wife <a href=""> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href=""> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

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  • Oelmotor Oelmotor on Jun 06, 2013

    We`ll see, but Chrysler might have the better lobbyists and lawyers. I would rather deal with a stuck accelerator in a Toyota over a Jeep in flames.

  • Gardiner Westbound Gardiner Westbound on Jun 06, 2013

    A tow truck operator in a former life, I attended dozens of car fires. All were underhood fires due to a fuel leak, overheated alternator or AC compressor. I can't remember towing a car that burned as a result of a rear-end collision fuel tank rupture. Not saying they don't happen, just that they're rare, and a horrible way to die. Nonetheless, it's hard to fathom why Chrysler would design a modern vehicle with an unprotected fuel tank aft of the rear axle after the Pinto, Ford's four-passenger furnace, court case.

    • Danio3834 Danio3834 on Jun 06, 2013

      "Nonetheless, it’s hard to fathom why Chrysler would design a modern vehicle with an unprotected fuel tank aft of the rear axle after the Pinto, Ford’s four-passenger furnace, court case." Because when the vehicles in question were designed, it was still fairly common to place the tank in this location as the vehicles could easily meet the design standards of the day with the tank placed there. These Jeeps were hardly the only vehicles designed after the Pinto to have the tank placed in that position. Millions upon millions of common vehicles had rear mounted tanks after that. The simple placement of the tank in that location does not indicate a defect in design.

  • Lou_BC Was he at GM for 47 years or an engineer for 47 years?
  • Ajla The VW vote that was held today heavily favored unionization (75/25). That's a very large victory for the UAW considering such a vote has failed two other times this decade at that plant.
  • The Oracle Just advertise ICE vehicles by range instead of MPG and let the market decide.
  • Lou_BC Collective bargaining provides workers with the ability to counter a rather one-sided relationship. Let them exercise their democratic right to vote. I found it interesting that Conservative leaders were against unionization. The fear there stems from unions preferring left leaning political parties. Wouldn't a "populist" party favour unionization?
  • Jrhurren I enjoyed this