NHTSA May Expand the 2013 Chrysler-Jeep Recall

Mark Rosekind, NHTSA Chief may reopen the probe of older Jeeps depending on the March, 2015 data which reflects the progress of repairs under the 2013 Recall of Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Libertys.

Why the Aggressive Threats?

What stands in the balance for Chrysler and Jeep could be a high-cost recall. That cost follows the award of a $150 million award to the parents of a 4-year old who died when the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee was struck from behind by a pickup truck. The subsequent accident led to an exploded gas tank and a fiery ball of flames.

The NHTSA closed the initial investigation in November of 2014. In what seems like a struggle to make Chrysler-Jeep comply, Mark Rosekind states that the investigation is back on the table, and the NHTSA is adding other actions within the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations jurisdiction.

Why are Safety Repairs Taking So Long?

The problem that the NHTSA has is that the current pace of repairs on the millions of recalled Jeep vehicles is progressing too slowly. The gas tanks of these vehicles sit behind the rear axle and when struck from behind can result in a fiery explosion that cascades into the cabin of the vehicle. What Chrysler-Jeep is supposed to be doing is installing a trailer hitch to the rear bumpers of those millions of vehicles recalled in 2013. The trailer hitch is supposed to add support to the frame of 1993-2007 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Jeep Libertys so that when hit from the rear, the gas tank is not compromised.

The Death Toll from These Vehicles

Sadly, the NHTSA has linked more than 50 deaths to the fiery explosion following a rear-end collision of these vehicles. Amid the initial government investigation, Chrysler-Jeep resisted the recall. In so doing, Chrysler-Jeep left millions of families across America in jeopardy. Chrysler-Jeep has argued from the beginning that these vehicles are safe. Since the recall in 2013, Mike Rosekind and a group of regulators formed a coalition to look deeper into the safety of these vehicles.

What Is Chrysler-Jeep Supposed to Fix?

As part of the initial recall, Chrysler-Jeep formed a “Customer Satisfaction Campaign” which includes over a million vehicles not included in the recall, but tied to the recall. These vehicles are to be inspected by Chrysler and either fixed or declared safe to drive. The current problem, and what might be pushing Mr. Rosekind to action, is that the $150 million verdict handed down at the beginning of April involved one of the vehicles that are under the “Customer Satisfaction Campaign.” This may indicate that a greater legal president may be needed, especially if Chrysler-Jeep is moving too slowly with just the “Customer Satisfaction Campaign.”

It is clear that Mr. Rosekind feels that this is a pressing issue and that the time frame to protect the public is too long. He wants this dealt with quickly so that others do not suffer the same fate as the family of the 4-year old victim who died because of the defect in these vehicles. The automobile industry has set in place standards that make seat belts safe for adults and children. There are airbags for front passengers, second and third-row passengers, but all of that safety equipment is not going to protect you from a fiery explosion. That is the crux of the situation with these Jeep vehicles.

The March Data

When the March data that addresses the progress of the recall is available the NHTSA will make the decision as to whether or not the 2013 recall needs to broaden. In the meantime, only an estimated 25 percent of the recalled vehicles have been addressed.  Chrysler has either installed the tow hitch or declared that vehicle is not at risk.

A representative of Chrysler-Jeep, known now as FCA US LLC, and Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles NV, made a statement following the verdict and $150 million dollar award from early April. In his address to the press, the FCA US LLC spokesmen declared that vehicles in the “Customer Satisfaction Program” do not pose an unreasonable risk to consumers safety. It is somewhat difficult to believe that when the very vehicle at the heart of the $150 million award was a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee and was part of the “Customer Satisfaction Program.” In that incident, the vehicle posed a significant risk to those passengers.

Chrysler-Jeep’s argument has always been that the vehicles being recalled and those in the “Customer Satisfaction Program” are not defective. Each was built to meet the strict government standards at the time the vehicles were manufactured. That argument is somewhat cold. It is hard to ignore that the deaths of 54 people linked to this non-defect. It is hard to read the story of the 4-year old boy who was killed when the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee, that he was riding in experienced a gas tank explosion that led to his death. It should not be a question of whether or not these vehicles manufacturing met government standards. It should be about the fact that, in some cases, the gas tanks explode. There should be some concern for public safety. There is none. The argument boils to money. In fact, it boils down to the money needed to fix these vehicles. Is the NHTSA doing enough? It would seem not. If there is a risk of more vehicles being a death trap should not those vehicles be recalled too?

Others think so too. The jury who heard the case involving this 4-year old boy, laid blame at Chrysler’s feet. The jury stated that the automaker was “99 percent at fault and that the driver of the truck that rear-ended the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee was one percent at fault.”

Moving Forward

Mr. Rosekind and the NHTSA plans to meet this summer with the executive leaderships of larger automobile manufacturers. The goal is to discuss what appears to be a “culture of safety” and the lack of a “proactive plan” to resolve consumer safety issues and vehicles. In the meantime, Chrysler is considering appealing the $150 million verdict awarded in early April.