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U.S. close to naming Fiat Chrysler safety monitor

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday the agency is close to naming a monitor to oversee Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s three-year consent decree over its handling of nearly two dozen recalls.

Separately, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said Fiat Chrysler’s admitted failure to turn over a significant number of early warning reports of death and injuries broader and went back further than some anticipated.

Rosekind told reporters Thursday at a roundtable the agency has three finalists and may pick a monitor this week.

“The top three are all very, very strong,” Rosekind said.

In an earlier Detroit News interview Wednesday, Rosekind also said the issue may be broader than previously known.

“We're still in data collection mode. We identified it. They went back. It goes much deeper than I think anybody expected. So we need the data to figure out what the action is going to be,” Rosekind said.

Asked if there are hundreds or thousands of death or injury claims that should have been reported, Rosekind said the investigation was continuing: "That's what we're trying to figure out. I think it goes back much earlier than they expected... We find one thing and then it goes back further and so that's what the challenge has been."

He said the findings when released would be “pretty surprising.”

Fiat Chrysler didn’t immediately comment.

In July, Fiat Chrysler reached a $105 million settlement with NHTSA over its handling of nearly two dozen recalls covering 11 million vehicles. The monitor oversee the company's compliance with the three-year agreement that came after NHTSA raised questions about FCA's handling of 23 recall campaigns covering more than 11 million vehicles. The automaker is required to conduct sweeping training and safety reforms under the deal.

Fiat Chrysler said recently it hired Deloitte to review and evaluate the company's procedures for compliance with NHTSA regulations.

It must hold regular meetings with NHTSA and its monitor to discuss safety issues before they reach the recall stage. Fiat Chrysler agreed to buy back unrepaired trucks that are part of three recalls of 578,000 trucks and SUVs that can lose control.

Vehicles in the buyback program include the unrepaired 2008-12 Ram trucks for a tie-rod assembly steering problem; 2008-12 Ram 4500 and 5,500 trucks recalled for similar steering problems; and 2009-12 Ram pickups, 2009-11 Dodge Dakotas, 2009 Dodge Durangos and Chrysler Aspen SUVs for a rear axle pinion nut problem that can cause the axle to lock up.

In January, Honda Motor Co. agreed to pay a $70 million fine for failing to disclose more than 1,700 reports of deaths, injuries and other "early warning" information to NHTSA, which then was the largest auto safety fine in U.S. history. Honda admitted it violated two sections of a 2000 federal law that requires automakers to disclose reports to NHTSA.

The auto safety agency first raised questions when it learned about a death in a Fiat Chrysler car that had not been reported to the safety agency's "early warning system." Major auto companies are required to electronically submit massive amounts of data involving vehicle crashes, deaths, lawsuits, warranty claims and other information.

The issue has been under discussion for more than a month. The early warning reports are required under a 2000 law passed by Congress after more than 270 were killed in rollover accidents in Ford Explorers with faulty tires. The law is aimed at helping regulators spot safety defect trends earlier.

DShepardson@detroitnews.com