By on July 3, 2015

1999 Grand Cherokee Launch-12

Yesterday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration took the unusual step of hauling a single automaker to the Capitol to scold Fiat Chrysler for delays in recalls and repairs. The hearing is ahead of anticipated fines NHTSA may deal later this month, possibly as high as $700 million.

Attention was focused on Jeep Liberties and Grand Cherokees with rear-mounted gas tanks that could leak fuel if struck in a high-speed rear collision and potentially catch fire. Also of importance is the rate at which Jeep notified its owners of the recall.

FCA’s Senior Vice President for Vehicle Safety and Regulatory Compliance Scott Kunselman said at the hearing that FCA “could have done better in carrying out the campaigns.”


Owners of Grand Cherokees and Liberty SUVs had trailer hitches installed on their cars that could protect in low- to moderate-speed impact collisions. Eric Mayne, a spokesman for FCA, said that NHTSA tested the trailer hitches and found them to perform similarly to their peers.

A Massachusetts father testified at the hearing, saying his 17-year-old son was killed when the Grand Cherokee he was driving was struck and ignited. The issue has been linked to more than 50 deaths.

A second recall was recently issued for faulty wiring that could disable airbags.

NHTSA “tentatively concluded” FCA didn’t address the recalls in time, or adequately. Despite issuing a recall in June 2013, NHTSA said only 23 percent of the cars had been fixed by the end of April. FCA said that figure is now around 33 percent.

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21 Comments on “FCA Awaits NHTSA’s Wrath After Recall Hearings...”


  • avatar
    50merc

    So only a third of the recalled FCA cars have been fixed. Has GM done even that well with the defective ignition switch debacle?

  • avatar
    danio3834

    “NHTSA said only 23 percent of the cars had been fixed by the end of April. FCA said that figure is now around 33 percent.”

    With vehicles of this age, high completion rates are difficult and 100% is impossible. The vehicles have changed hands so many times that it’s hard to notify owners, plus many have been totalled or scrapped at the end of their useful lives. A 100% repair completion rate won’t ever happen with this one, so keep that in perspective.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      A car can change hands 12 times but the DMV knows of the last registered sale. It is impossible to find all that fell off the map, but finding all that are legally on the road is simple.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        Not as easy as you’d think. People change addresses and don’t update their registrations, vehicles change hands without being re-registered, registration practices that vary from state to state etc. etc. etc.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          As long as OEMs follow the “paper trail” to where it ends, I’m fine with that. If car owners don’t play by the rules, they can’t blame the OEM for not doing their due diligence.

        • 0 avatar
          05lgt

          And yet a collection agency could locate them in what, 5 minutes? Unless there’s a regulated standard defining how diligent the search has to be, some companies will do the barest minimum thier legal department thinks will survive when challenged.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Remember that this particular recall wasn’t exactly voluntary.

      This one involved Sergio Marchionne and Ray LaHood meeting secretly in Chicago after Chrysler had essentially told NHTSA to f**k off. (If memory serves, this was LaHood’s last act as Secretary of Transportation.) That sort of thing pretty much never happens otherwise.

      The trailer hitch as a fix was a compromise — I am guessing that if NHTSA had gotten what it had wanted that the recall would have cost a couple of billion dollars, which is something that FCA can ill-afford. There may be some bad blood on both sides of this one.

      • 0 avatar
        anomaly149

        Seems like the new normal for NHSTA is to behave more like the FAA on this stuff. If that’s the case, they really need to start beefing up their engineering staff. Congress has made sure they’re woefully underfunded to the point they lack a basic understanding of the products they are regulating.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          NHTSA is understaffed, and the US does not use a “type approval” to approve cars and components prior to their release. Relying on spot checks and consumer complaints is how we handle it in the US, and that isn’t going to change.

          The strategy as of late has been to assess very high fines so that the automakers will get hit with bad publicity and will be more inclined to police themselves. This Chrysler recall didn’t go as NHTSA would have hoped, as FCA took the highly unusual step of refusing to comply. I have little doubt that the high cost of playing along had everything to do with it.

          • 0 avatar
            anomaly149

            It’s just difficult that NHSTA doesn’t understand the basic engineering principles behind what it’s regulating. The state of the art is advancing so quickly that they need to start hiring, and fast.

            For what it’s worth, FCA was statistically in the right. Most OEMs just aren’t brave enough to publicly call the government wrong.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            NHTSA had an engineering solution but it was expensive, given the nature of what it wanted done and the number of vehicles involved.

            FCA doesn’t want to pay that much. More to the point, it probably can’t afford to pay it.

            This isn’t a technical difference. It’s about cash.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      at the end of their useful lives

      Which for one of those GC’s was a long time ago.

  • avatar
    Phil in Englewood

    So this is the Jeep Pinto and Grand Pinto we’re talking about? GM is very clever – a giant fireball in the rear is the perfect distraction from a defective ignition switch. Gee, every day I find new incentives for me to run out and buy a shiny new GM car.
    Forward!

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      The Pinto at least had to take fairly hard impact and the tank wasn’t total exposed like it is on this lifted SUV. Then get on the brakes hard and it lifts another few inches, at about headlight level with most cars, and bumper level with anything bigger. Even impact at fairly low speeds can cause fiery death, looking at the unprotected tank.

      How could engineers not see it from behind? Like nuts on a big dog, you can’t miss it.

      But I’m sure FCA is arguing about recalling the Pinto too.

      • 0 avatar
        anomaly149

        The Pinto also wasn’t statistically less safe than any other contemporary small car. Same with GM’s ignition switch vehicles, as well as the Toyotas with the pedal problem and the Jeeps with the flammable fuel tank.

        But that’s not what gets people to tune in to CNN HEADLINE NEWS, THE LATEST IN WHAT YOU SHOULD BE AFRAID OF KILLING YOU WITH YOUR HOST: A HOLOGRAM OF WOLF BLITZER.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          The Pinto came from a different era where perhaps life was more expendable. We just got back from Vietnam, seat belts were for nerds and kids rode around happily in the beds of pickup trucks. That’s just the way I remember it as a kid myself at the time. When it was you’re “time”, that was that.

          By this generation of Grand Cherokee, we thought differently. But apparently not enough.

          • 0 avatar
            anomaly149

            That’s the thing: neither vehicle is more vulnerable statistically than its peer group.

            60 minutes just had to pick one to focus on.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            It isn’t just about the risk of failure, but the severity of the consequences of failure.

            Having a car turn into a fireball is a big deal. People die gruesome deaths and suffer horrible injuries when such things happen. Burning to death is a bit more than just a minor safety problem.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            By now, getting rear ended at 25 mph is not a big deal. As a passenger, I had it happen to me, and while it didn’t feel good, no one came close to being injured. Except a 25 mph impact could easily burn people to death if a car is at just the right height to slide past the bumper and cream the tank.

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