Fiat Chrysler safety chief retiring after troubled year

Michael Wayland and David Shepardson
The Detroit News

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s safety chief for North America is retiring after a year of trouble with government regulators.

The company on Tuesday said Scott Kunselman, a 30-year veteran of the company, will step down Nov. 30 as senior vice president of safety and regulatory affairs. He will support the transition to his successor, who will be named at a later date, according to FCA US.

In retirement, Kunselman, 52, will join the senior administration of Oakland University on Dec. 1. FCA US — formerly Chrysler Group LLC — and Oakland University have a long-standing tradition of collaboration, where Kunselman most recently served on the Board of Trustees of Oakland University on behalf of the company.

“I want to thank Scott for his leadership and commitment to the company, where he has served in a variety of executive roles since joining in 1985,” said Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne. “We wish him well in his next chapter at Oakland University.”

Kunselman’s reitrement comes after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in July hit Chrysler with a record $105 million penalty for violating laws in 23 recalls covering more than 11 million vehicles. The company also is under investigation for failing to report some deaths and injuries to the agency as required by law.

The agency said Fiat Chrysler 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.

The agency said Fiat Chrysler failed to properly notify car owners and NHTSA of recalls in a timely fashion, and did not ensure there were adequate parts. It said Fiat Chrysler initiated recall fixes that did not work. In one case, the automaker suspended a recall campaign and asked dealers to return parts for quality verification without notifying NHTSA. Fiat Chrysler owners have waited 18 months for replacement parts to get some recall repairs completed.

In a Detroit News interview in July, Kunselman denied the company had intentionally misled the agency. "The plan is to move forward," he said, noting the company has restructured its safety efforts. Kunselman acknowledged "some of the things we've done were sloppy. We absolutely had no mis-intent."

The penalty comes more than a year after Fiat Chrysler announced it was reorganizing its vehicle safety efforts into a new unit led by a senior vice president who will report directly to Marchionne. Fiat Chrysler said it was establishing a new office of Vehicle Safety and Regulatory Compliance led by Kunselman.

Before the change, Fiat Chrysler housed auto safety in its global engineering group.

Kunselman started with the company in 1985. He has held several positions, including leading North American Free Trade Agreement purchasing and supplier quality before heading safety. Prior to that, he was senior vice president-engineering, a position that included oversight of regulatory compliance.

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