By on June 24, 2016

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-004

It didn’t take long for perennial automotive litigant Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro to assemble a class action lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in the wake of actor Anton Yelchin’s death.

The Seattle-based law firm filed suit against FCA yesterday, alleging the recalled Monostable gear shift levers in certain models pose a risk to drivers, and could have contributed to Yelchin’s death. The firm, acting on behalf of three clients in California, Florida and Ohio, called the shifters “dangerously defective” and demanded a jury trial.

Anyone who follows automotive news will immediately recognize the Hagens Berman name. The firm is no stranger to class action lawsuits filed in the wake of automotive controversies, and currently has a page on its website soliciting clients for the FCA issue. Currently, the firm has lawsuits filed against Volkswagen, Daimler, and (just yesterday) General Motors.

In its suit, the firm said FCA intentionally covered up design flaws with the shifter. It is demanding punitive damages, a safety override for the shifters, replacement cars for the owners, and compensation for any expenses incurred as a result of the shifter.

FCA voluntarily recalled 1.1 million vehicles equipped with the shifter in April, and recently issued a service notice to dealers detailing how to install an “auto park” feature to prevent accidental rollaways. Still, the June 19 death of Anton Yelchin in the driveway of his Los Angeles home put new focus on the shifters.

Yelchin’s vehicle, a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee equipped with the confusing shifter, was found in neutral with the engine running after it rolled backwards and pinned him against a brick gatepost.

Amid a media firestorm, FCA issued a statement saying they would investigate the accident. Yesterday, Jeep and Ram brand chief Mike Manley addressed the issue, making him the first FCA executive to do so.

“First, from my perspective and FCA’s perspective, we are obviously extending our deep sympathies to the family and friends,” Manley said at a media event, according to the Detroit Free Press. “Obviously we would like our own people to go over the vehicle. However that may or may not happen.”

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47 Comments on “Confusing Gearshift Lands Fiat-Chrysler a Lawsuit; Jeep Head Breaks Silence on Yelchin’s Death...”


  • avatar
    andyinatl

    Regardless of the outcome of this investigation, i always wondered what’s the point of these trick shifters? Other than looks, what are the manufacturers achieving by replacing conventional levers with these software/sensor based shifters? I rented Chrysler 200 that had one of the rotary shifters and failed to see the point. It’s counterintuitive, it doesn’t save any space as the center console was still same, etc. It’s completely stupid. And they just cost themselves millions of money in lawsuits. Why not redirect the creative energy toward something useful; like making your cars not suck would be a good start..

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Money. It save the OEM millions every time they go from mechanical to electronic. Remember throttle cables?

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Maybe certain things need to never change as such, maybe its time for better safety standards.

      • 0 avatar
        NoID

        The polystable shifter is also electronic, so that’s not a reason. It’s just another way to identify with the luxury brands. I don’t know your level of exposure to the JGC, but the Summit and SRT trims are definitely not bad places to spend the miles. They compare very well against BMW and MB considering the price.

        It’s a gimmick, but justifiable from a brand/sales strategy point of view. Seems it wasn’t integrated properly, which is the real shame.

      • 0 avatar
        Exfordtech

        One of the reasons throttle cables were done away with is emissions control. Herky-jerky accelerator operation is difficult to manage from an emissions standpoint. The software involved will make for smoother throttle response, and is also helpful in regards to automatic transmission shift strategy.
        Back in my dealership days we’d use a customer flight recorder that would be installed in a difficult to diagnose vehicle, the customer would press a button while driving whenever the symptom they were concerned with occurred and a recording would be made of various parameters to view a window of time around the event. The best advice on how to use the device came from an engineer from Ford that was an instructor for classroom training. He said the most useful parameters to record would be MAF, TP, RPM, and Brake on/off (BOO). More than once, the “my car is doing this …” involved someone simultaneously mashing on and off the gas pedal while the brakes were applied. Reeducation of the loose nut behind the wheel would fix the problem.

    • 0 avatar
      Menloguy

      The 2017 Ford Fusion also has the rotary dial type transmission and I don’t see the point of it either. I’ve never used one of those rotary transmission shifters but I’m afraid it will be very disconcerting for me to try to unlearn the muscle memory/motor learning gained from using a traditional shifter for over 20 years, especially on a critical control that affects the motion of a vehicle and the objects/people surrounding it.

    • 0 avatar

      All will be FORGIVEN if they exchange my JGC SRT for a TRACKHAWK at no extra charge.

      We can find another actor to play Chekov.

      Koenig was better as Bester anyway…

      • 0 avatar
        NoID

        What’s in a name? I’m sure they’d offer you a badge at no charge to make you go away.

        Curiously, even the 2016 model has disappeared from the DriveSRT website. Makes me wonder if they’re pulling ahead a name change in order to complete the Dodgeification of SRT.

        I’m not a Brand guy, so I wouldn’t know. I’m paid to facilitate their velocitization, not sell them.

  • avatar
    ant

    My guess is that the bean counters like these shifters.

    A friend of mine had a newish Ram truck. He complains about the user interface on the trip odometer. Ram has done away with the button that you press to reset it. Now you have to use other buttons, and dig through a sub menu on a screen to get access to reset the trip odometer.

    That plastic button costs to much to put in these days I guess.

    Stupid.

  • avatar
    LS1Fan

    If I made a car , switched the gas and the brake pedals around,and proceeded to bury the details on Page Seventywhatever in the owners manual, logic would suggest I should expect certain customers will end up in accidents.

    FCA should have done what every manufacturer did prior: put a damn PRNDL console in and left it at that. You don’t put specialized controls in mass market cars unless you want mass market problems.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      “FCA should have done what every manufacturer did prior: put a damn PRNDL console in and left it at that. ”

      Except there isn’t any design rules that dictate that; nothing says reverse on a manual should in a specific location either. Auto park should have been installed from the beginning on these vehicles.

      • 0 avatar
        LS1Fan

        Uncommon sense would suggest if your customers expect Control X to behave and look like Y fashion, then you should design your product to meet those specs.

        When that doesn’t happen, your customers might not successfully operate your product properly……or safely.

    • 0 avatar
      jmp2006

      Except that they didn’t switch the PRNDL pattern. That’s still the same (minus the “D” and “L” which are no longer necessary). Nothing in the shift pattern was changed. The only difference is in the “feel” of the actual shifter. It’s not like they changed it to “DRNP” or something.

      Nothing about this is “confusing” in any way.

      Even if you were were to change the gas and brake pedals around, like you say, it would literally take a person the first 2 seconds of their test drive, before they bought the car, to figure it out. At which point they could say “well, this is the stupidest thing ever and I’m not paying you money for this car” or “oh, hey, I can live with this and will buy it anyway”.

    • 0 avatar
      EBFlex

      “FCA should have done what every manufacturer did prior: put a damn PRNDL console in and left it at that. You don’t put specialized controls in mass market cars unless you want mass market problems.”

      Right. Because it’s the shifters fault that he CHOSE to exit the vehicle without properly securing it.

      This has nothing to do with the shifter. It functions just fine and is not confusing for anyone with an IQ higher than 17. No matter what kind of shifter the vehicle has, you, THE DRIVER/OPERATOR of the vehicle have certain responsibilities. One of those is securing the vehicle before you exit.

      Why is this society so quick to blame ANYTHING other than the person directly responsible? This boils down to personal responsibility.

      Blaming anyone or anything other than the driver of the vehicle is amazingly ignorant and short sighted.

  • avatar
    ant

    I wonder how many sales of these cars have been lost solely due to people not liking these shifters on the test drive.

    Doesn’t ZF share some of the blame for this as well? Aren’t they the ones who designed their transmissions to change gears via solenoid, as opposed to mechanical linkage? This is the root of the problem the way I see it.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      The shifter is an off the shelf ZF part.

    • 0 avatar
      gradall

      Excellent point! My wife and I refused to by a grand cherokee last month solely based on the shifter design. I had a rental with the monostable and found that executing a quick turn followed by a backing maneuver almost impossible because there is so little feed back from the shifter. (My eyes were busy watching the mirrors for traffic.) Sorry jeep even with a $500 off coupon toyota got our money (highlander)

      • 0 avatar
        Flipper35

        So you refused to buy a new unit over an old design?

        • 0 avatar
          gradall

          Correct, her trust was lost in this generation jgc because of that shifter. I showed her the 16s with the redesign but the damage had been done from driving the 2015 with the monostable.

          • 0 avatar
            jmp2006

            I’m glad that you voted with your wallet on this one. If something didn’t feel right, or you didn’t like the way it worked, you didn’t buy it. It’s the right way to go.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Plus it’s not just whether you’ll adapt easy enough, but what about anyone that’ll be driving it? Your mom or son or whoever. It’s blocking something on the driveway, with kids playing all around, and grandpa jumps in it to move it, then tragedy. He smashes the vacuum flip headlights of your pristine ’69 Cougar XR7 barnfind.

          • 0 avatar
            EBFlex

            Sorry, she should not be allowed to drive. The shifter is not that complicated. My 77 year old grandmother figured it out.

            It’s not complicated, it just takes some self awareness and responsibility to ensure what position it’s in prior to exiting…something that everyone should do regardless of what kind of shifter they have.

    • 0 avatar
      turf3

      As I understand it, auto transmissions shifted by solenoids rather than cables have been typical for some decades now. The problem is the poorly educated individuals who believe that change is always an advance, even when it involves making changes to well-established user interfaces for no performance improvement.

      One can speculate whether this was a case of engineers who don’t know when to stop (this certainly has been a long standing Chrysler tradition, contributing to that company’s abysmal quality and reliability reputation), or googly-eyed marketeers who never lifted their faces from their electronic doohickeys long enough to understand concepts like human factors or KISS.

      • 0 avatar
        pragmatist

        Solenoids are not the problem. You can have a clean straightforward user design and still use solenoids to do the work.

        The problem seems to be an error prone design just to be different.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      Many transmissions rely on electronics rather than mechanical linkages for gear selection.

      Competent OEMs design their electronic selector to mimic familiar PRNDL operation, or apply proper human factors design to ensure that an unconventional implementation is still safe. Chrysler decided to get clever and pooched it.

      The root cause is not that the transmission can accept electronic inputs, but that Chrysler had a fundamentally bad idea and them implemented it poorly.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        Chrysler didn’t “implement it” or “get clever”. They purchased a transmission from ZF that is widely considered to be an excellent product and put it in their vehicles.

        • 0 avatar
          bikegoesbaa

          FCA has repeatedly opted to get clever with their transmission selectors; and are 100% responsible for their implementation decisions.

          Is anybody else using a rotary knob right now?
          Is anybody else using the Monostable design right now?
          Is there perhaps a reason for that?

          Both systems impose significant human interaction issues and offer essentially no benefits besides looking neat. The proof of this is FCA’s voluntary recall effort that is focused on remedial training for drivers as to how to operate their shifters.

          It was a poor choice on FCA’s part to use them, and they deserve all the lawsuits and associated costs that they’re going to get.

          Other companies have managed to implement electronic transmission selectors with non-standard patterns without generating lawsuits and recalls. The Prius has been doing this for more than a decade.

          The fundamental technology isn’t the problem. The problem is that FCA was more focused on doing things different than doing things right.

          • 0 avatar
            Flipper35

            Several companies used the same shifter and Chryco wasn’t even the first to use it. It is an off the shelf part made by ZF.

            What does the polystable have to do with the monostable?

          • 0 avatar
            gradall

            I have a rotary knob in my ram and it is 100% intuitive, all the way counterclockwise wise for park, one very distinct detent clockwise for reverse, detent then neutral, full clockwise for drive. Software prevents park from being engaged at speed. The problem with jgc is the detects are so soft to non existent you are waiting for the vehicle to lurch for drive or reverse.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

            Maybe check facts before you make statements like “is anyone using X design?”

            Um, yes, lots of car makers are using rotary dial, trick shifters, even buttons again.

            Its not 1992.

        • 0 avatar
          NickS

          >Chrysler didn’t “implement it” or “get clever”. They purchased a transmission from ZF that is widely considered to be an excellent product and put it in their vehicles.

          Not so. Chrysler integrates many parts it buys from its suppliers. It doesn’t have to accept the default behavior from ZF either. OEMs do modify their TCM coding before selling the car, unless of course their supply agreement stipulated that ZF is responsible for the coding that is appropriate to the specific vehicle implementation. Even then, no sane OEM will accept any safety critical systems without doing some thorough testing.

          They are fixing it now after the end users did the testing for them. That says a lot about the crappy integration they did.

  • avatar
    Shortest Circuit

    *sigh* I miss actors duking it out on Mulholland Drive in Porsches and Shelby Cobras :(

  • avatar
    blaster668

    I have a Ram 1500 with the rotary dial shifter on the dash, and think it is fantastic. They should use this exact shifter and location on all the vehicles. It frees up a ton of usable space on the console. Using the shifter that these Jeeps had just seems to be a horrible idea, when the dash mounted rotary was available to use.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Hagens Berman might be right on this one.

    This incident may quietly herald the end of the monostable shifter from all mfrs. I can’t think anyone will be willing to utilize such a design again.

  • avatar
    tsoden

    The Toyota Prius has executed this style of shifter correctly. It is electronic and automatically returns to the central position, but the shifter is also GATED… which makes it much easier to identify what gear you are putting the car in. I really don’t understand why others who insist on electronic shifters don’t follow a similar approach?

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      Good points. I just got a Prius and the shifter makes me crazy on this one point. After driving 5 speed sticks my whole life, I became unconsciously programmed by first gear. To start forward vehicular motion, move the stick forward. On the Prius, that gets reverse. With the sticks I drove, reverse was alway pull back. In the Prius that gets “drive”. In the Prius I keep chanting “Rise to Reverse, Down to Drive”
      I still get it wrong.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    The design of the shifter is stupid, and might potentially cause somebody to be in D when they think they are in R or vice versa. Where things can (and apparently did) turn deadly is when the car is accidentally in neutral.

    ANY auto engineer with more than two brain cells to rub together should plan for every possible outcome to save even the dumbest driver from him or herself. Since the lever is never physically in a P or N position, you can program it to be in whatever mode you want it to. It would’ve been *extremely* easy for them to implement a few simple if/then software commands that would’ve avoided this entire situation, but they didn’t bother, and so here we are.

    I will personally shed no tears if the monostable shifter goes away because of this. The wheel did not need to be re-invented here. Handbrake levers take up a ton of space on the center console, and it makes total sense to get rid of them, especially in A/T cars where you don’t need the handbrake 95% of the time anyway. PRNDS shifters don’t need that much space.

    The 4-cyl TLX has plenty of room for a traditional shifter on the console, and it can still fit two big gulp cup holders and a space for your phone. The 6-cyl version with the stupid push buttons saves them absolutely nothing in space. It’s there PURELY because it’s “cool.” I don’t need my shifter to be “cool.” I need to be able to shift between R and D rapidly, purely by feel. Any traditional A/T lever can do that. Two clunks forward is R, two clunks back is D. If I need to look down even for a second to study your stupid push buttons so I can find the right one, you FAILED.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      A nice big “P” button, in red, would have prevented this! Put it next to the shift selector.

      One bump down for Drive, one bump up for Reverse, from Park. Two bumps down to Drive from Reverse, two bumps up to Reverse from Drive. (In the above cases, one bump gets Neutral.) Lock out the other gear above a certain speed to avoid grenading.

      Done.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    “In its suit, the firm said FCA intentionally covered up design flaws with the shifter. It is demanding punitive damages, a safety override for the shifters, replacement cars for the owners, and compensation for any expenses incurred as a result of the shifter.”

    And ponies. We want ponies.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    Another baseless and frivolous lawsuit this country has become so famous for.

    Suing Chrysler because someone was so negligent that he didn’t secure his vehicle before exiting.

    Time to sue whoever installed the driveway too because it wasn’t flat.

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    A few years ago autos were 3,4 or maybe 5 speeds , nowadays there are 8 speeds with 10 speeds being introduced over the next few years. A conventional shifter with 13 positions is going to be a challenge and pretty confusing also.

  • avatar
    truecarhipsterdouche

    Can’t sweep this under the rug eh, FCA? If the death was to a white hillbilly in Missouri, not a peep would be known. I bet none of your internal actuarial tables had anything covering the odds of a celebrity death that would bring the full might of every non-car expert down on your organization.

    What sweater will Sergio wear when he has to sign the check to cover the massive lawsuit award the jury will bestow upon to unfortunate?

    • 0 avatar
      EBFlex

      What is there to sweep under the rug?

      The fact that this person did not properly secure their vehicle before exiting? That isn’t the shifter or Chrysler’s fault

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