Former DOT chief to oversee Fiat Chrysler safety plan

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Friday it has named former Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater to oversee Fiat Chrysler Automobiles over the next three years as part of a record-setting $105 million consent decree.

The monitor oversees 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.

NHTSA Adminstrator Mark Rosekind said Friday that Slater will have an important role in helping NHTSA oversee FCA’s compliance with the consent order and help the company address issues that led to NHTSA’s enforcement action. He said Slater would work with a team of attorneys.

“We welcome Secretary Slater and anticipate our collaboration with him will be highly productive,” said Scott Kunselman, Fiat Chrysler’s senior vice president for vehicle safety and regulatory compliance. “We are eager to further improve customer safety and recall execution.”

The automaker must hold regular meetings with NHTSA and Slater to discuss safety issues before they reach the recall stage. Fiat Chrysler must also lead industrywide efforts to boost auto safety.

Slater will “assess, tract and report” on how Fiat Chrysler carries out recalls. The company had a number of lapses, with some customers complaining they couldn't get replacement parts for more than a year. Fiat Chrysler also admitted to failing to notify consumers on time — and didn't always properly notify all owners of defective vehicles.

Slater will have to review Fiat Chrysler's safety efforts and could impose $15 million of the $105 million in fines if he finds the automaker isn't in compliance.

The settlement will last at least three years and could be extended for a fourth year at NHTSA's request.

Slater is a partner at law firm Squire Patton Boggs, where he co-leads the transportation practice. He is an adviser to Takata Corp., the air bag manufacturer under investigation by federal prosecutors and NHTSA over ruptures of inflators linked to at least eight deaths.

He also was an adviser to Toyota Motor Corp., and led an advisory panel that said in a 2011 report that Toyota was still “too centralized” in decision-making in the wake of its sudden acceleration problems. And he represented Cerberus Capital Management LP in 2007, when it was the majority owner of Chrysler Group LLC, as it sought to convince Congress to approve a softer fuel efficiency bill.

Slater in 2007 was named chairman of Driving America’s Future, a group largely funded by GM. It was aimed at generating grass-roots support for softer fuel rules using tools.

General Motors Co. is expected to announce the name of its independent monitor by the end of next week as part of the Justice Department’s $900 million, three-year consent decree after GM was charged with two felony counts over its delayed ignition switch recall linked to at least 124 deaths and 275 injuries. GM last week named an outside lawyer to oversee its compliance with the agreement.

The consent deals have gotten tougher and more extensive since the safety agency first reached a deal with GM in May 2014. GM paid a $35 million fine but successfully avoided a monitor during settlement talks with NHTSA.