Washington — Nearly seven months after Chrysler Group LLC announced a recall of 1.56 million Jeep SUVs under government pressure, the Auburn Hills automaker is preparing to begin fixing vehicles.
After negotiations that included talks between then-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, Chrysler agreed on June 18 to recall 1.56 million 1992-98 Grand Cherokees and 2002-07 Libertys. Under the agreement, Chrysler agreed to install protective trailer hitches. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the gas tank can rupture and catch fire when the Jeeps are hit from behind. NHTSA cited reports of 51 deaths in rear-end accidents in which older Jeep gas tanks leaked and caught fire.
“In accordance with the announced action, Chrysler Group has finalized replacement-part design and is initiating the tooling process to deliver the required volume,” Chrysler spokesman Eric Mayne said Friday.
Chrysler officials say launching a major recall requires complex engineering and close collaboration with NHTSA. Chrysler said last year the recall would cost $151 million.
More than seven months after NHTSA formally asked Chrysler to recall 2.7 million older Jeep SUVs for fire risks, the government’s investigation — opened in August 2010 — shows no signs of wrapping up.
Under the announcement in June, Chrysler will conduct a service campaign for about 1.2 million 1999-2004 Grand Cherokees that includes replacing aftermarket trailer hitches, but not installing them on vehicles without them. NHTSA had originally asked Chrysler to recall all 2.7 million Jeeps. NHTSA Administrator David Strickland — who will step down next week — has repeatedly declined to say if NHTSA would crash-test the remedy that Chrysler has proposed, as auto safety advocates have urged and offered no details on the government’s investigation.
“NHTSA’s investigation into the proposed Chrysler remedy continues.” spokesman Nathan Naylor said Friday.
In July, Strickland disputed Chrysler’s contention that its decision to install trailer hitches on some Jeeps won’t help protect gas tanks — which are located behind the rear axle — in some high-speed crashes.
Chrysler itself says the trailer hitch will not eliminate the risk caused by high-speed rear collisions. “The hitch will provide “incremental improvement in the crash energy management in low- to moderate-speed rear collisions,” Chrysler said in a letter to NHTSA.
“We don’t agree with that characterization,” Strickland said in July. Strickland said there is a “clear span of the data” that suggests the fix may “resolve what we think to be the portion of unreasonable risk, how Chrysler vehicles performed against their peers but clearly there is more work that’s ongoing.”