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FCA likely topic in NHTSA’s visit to Detroit Monday

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Details regarding potential fines and penalties for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV over its recall efforts could come next week, as federal automotive safety officials visit Detroit.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator Mark Rosekind is scheduled to meet with reporters on Monday for a “high-level” discussion on the “progress of his top agency priorities – improving the process and performance of defect investigations, enhancing NHTSA’s core safety programs and utilizing technology to enhance safety.”

The agency does not mention FCA, but the automaker likely will be a major topic of discussion. FCA potentially faces millions of dollars in fines and special sanctions following NHTSA raising sweeping concerns about the automaker’s conduct in auto safety issues. Rosekind’s visit to Detroit is his first public appearance to the city since an unprecedented July 2 hearing at the Transportation Department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., where three agency officials detailed widespread problems in FCA’s handling of 23 recalls covering more than 11 million vehicles since 2013.

The agency said FCA repeatedly violated laws governing auto safety defects and often kept NHTSA “in the dark.” It said those problems hindered NHTSA from properly doing its job and potentially put car owners at risk. Rosekind told reporters after the hearing that he expects to take action against the automaker before the end of July. Asked if he saw any way the automaker could avoid punishment, he said “no.”

FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne told reporters Tuesday in Detroit that he is “incredibly respectful” of NHTSA’s firm stance on vehicle safety and recalls, and expects there will be “consequences” for the automaker.

“I think we’ve adapted not in the best possible way to the new regime,” he said. “I think there will be consequences. I fully acknowledge this, we’re not perfect.

“I think we need to continue to work with the agency to put us on the right path. I think that the commitment on our side is there, it’s always has been.”

Friday marked the end of a public comment period for the public to submit comments or responses following the July 2 hearing. A spokesman for FCA said the company did not submit any additional documents following the hearing.

“The documents we submitted reflect our position,” said FCA spokesman Eric Mayne. The automaker had already submitted an 18-page special order response to NHTSA’s original concerns and Scott Kunselman, FCA North America senior vice president of vehicle safety and regulatory affairs, testified during the hearing earlier this month.

FCA has had a combative relationship with NHTSA in recent years. Conflicts date to the government’s demand for the recall of 2.7 million Jeeps linked to more than 60 deaths because of gas tank fires that have occurred when the Jeeps are hit from behind. In recent months, the agency has questioned a growing number of FCA’s actions.

The public hearing was the latest sign of NHTSA’s get-tough attitude with automakers. The agency came under criticism from the Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General in a recent audit for failing to hold automakers accountable and properly investigate safety issues.

Rosekind also is expected to give a keynote speech Tuesday morning at the Automated Vehicles Symposium 2015 in Ann Arbor.

mwayland@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2504

Staff Writer David Shepardson contributed