Feds not done probing Fiat Chrysler's recall efforts

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Detroit — Federal safety regulators are not done investigating Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV's recall efforts, despite identifying issues with 23 recall campaigns involving more than 11 million vehicles.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator Mark Rosekind said the U.S. vehicle safety watchdog is continuing to evaluate the automaker's procedures and efforts outside the previously announced campaigns that date back to 2013.

"Just because we come out and handle these 23 doesn't mean that we're done going after some of those other things that maybe didn't fit into these particular 23 recalls that we identified," he told reporters Monday in Detroit.

Fiat Chrysler has had a combative relationship with NHTSA in recent years — starting with the government's demand for the recall of 2.7 million older-model Jeeps linked to more than 60 deaths because of gas tank fires that have occurred when the Jeeps are hit from behind. The investigation launched in 2010 and was officially closed last year.

According to Rosekind, no agreement between NHTSA and Fiat Chrysler has been made over the 23 identified recall campaigns that were the center of an unprecedented July 2 hearing at which agency officials detailed widespread problems in Fiat Chrysler's handling of the recalls. He said an announcement is expected by the end of July.

Penalties could include hefty fines, an agreement requiring significant auto safety reforms — or even ordering Fiat Chrysler to buy back unrepaired vehicles. The automaker could face fines of $35 million in each of the 23 recalls being investigated if NHTSA determines it failed to meet legal requirements.

Rosekind said an agreement, also known as a consent order, with Fiat Chrysler "would be a strong outcome if we could do that." He said recent actions and consent order agreements by NHTSA could be used with Fiat Chrysler, including hefty fines that not only go into the government's general fund but benefit vehicle safety programs and agencies.

In March, NHTSA fined Graco $10 million, including $7 million on measures to improve child seat safety.

"I think that was really creative," Rosekind said. "Penalty, yeah, there should be a price to pay. But that also means we've got safety going forward because they're actually going to pay for industry education and other things to make it better for everybody."

Speaking in general terms, he also mentioned buybacks, recall completion rates, monitoring and best practices as ideal situations for sanctions and penalties for non-compliant companies.

Friday marked the end of a public comment period following the July 2 hearing. Fiat Chrysler did not submit any additional documents following the hearing, but the agency received "dozens" of other comments, Rosekind said.

Fiat Chrysler had already submitted an 18-page special order response to NHTSA's original concerns and Scott Kunselman, Fiat Chrysler North America senior vice president of vehicle safety and regulatory affairs, testified during the hearing earlier this month.

Rosekind said NHTSA has "been generally good" with Fiat Chrysler's cooperation.

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told reporters last week in Detroit that he is "incredibly respectful" of NHTSA's firm stance on vehicle safety and recalls, and expected there will be "consequences" for the automaker.

Rosekind is expected to give a keynote speech Tuesday morning at the Automated Vehicles Symposium 2015 in Ann Arbor, a day after the official opening of MCity, a 32-acre driverless car testing site in the city.


(313) 222-2504