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