The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) held a hearing into the company’s safety record earlier this month at which witnesses excoriated Chrysler for being slow to diagnose and report safety defects and even slower to conduct recall campaigns to fix the defects.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx indicated last week that a consent order was in the works but did not reveal any details. The Wall Street Journal today reports that the company, now officially called FCA US LLC, will agree to assign an independent monitor to monitor its safety and recall operations.
At the hearing, FCA was accused of botching 23 safety recalls and being slow to recognize and report safety defects to NHTSA, as federal law requires.
“What you heard here is there’s a pattern that’s been going on for some time, frankly,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said after the hearing.
NHTSA has already “tentatively concluded” that the company has failed to complete as many as 11 million recalls in a timely manner, sometimes because it took too long to find a remedy and other times because it took too long to make enough replacement parts available
Cash for Jeeps?
The report says that FCA will begin offering cash to owners of certain Jeep Cherokees to encourage them to go to their Jeep dealer to carry out a recall that is intended to make the SUVs less prone to burst into flames after rear-end collisions. Jeep owners might also get a cash bonus if they agree to trade in their recalled Jeeps.
Various Jeep Cherokee and Liberty models are covered by the recall, which followed years of controversy during which safety advocates said the Jeeps were dangerous because their fuel tank was behind the rear axle and Chrysler countered that the SUVs were statistically as safe as comparable vehicles.
At the NHTSA hearing, Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, said Chrysler had failed to notify NHTSA of the defect despite confidentially settling at least 44 lawsuits since the Jeep Grand Cherokee was introduced in 1993.
“When forced to do a recall by NHTSA in June 2013 with a dubious trailer hitch as a remedy, Fiat Chrysler failed to send an interim … owner notification until January 2014 and a final … until September 2014,” he said, noting that two,two years after the recall started, only 5.9% of the nearly 1.5 million 1993-98 Grand Cherokees and 25% of the nearly 1 million 2002-07 Liberty’s have been remedied.
“People die when manufacturers fail to remedy recalled vehicles,” Ditlow said. “On November 11, 2014, Kayla White burned to death in a rear impact in her 2003 Jeep Liberty. Kayla was 8 months pregnant and had tried to get Fiat Chrysler to install the trailer hitch before the fatal crash.”
Ditlow charged that there have been at least 20 deaths in the recalled Jeeps since NHTSA recall request on June 3, 2013.