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Fiat Chrysler gear shifter recall expands to Maserati

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV is expanding its recall of more than 1 million vehicles with shifters that may confuse drivers to include certain Maserati cars.

The automaker, which owns the famed Italian brand, will recall more than 13,000 2014 Maserati Quattroporte and Ghibli sedans in the United States that feature the same transmissions and a “monostable electronic gear shift” that federal officials say have led to hundreds of crashes. The cars were manufactured from June 1, 2013, to Feb. 28, 2014.

Maserati, according to documents posted on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website, said the recall was initiated by the government vehicle safety watchdog.

The original recall from April involved 1.1 million 2012-14 Dodge Charger, Chrysler 300 sedans and 2014-15 Jeep Grand Cherokees globally was propelled into the spotlight earlier this week after one of the recalled Grand Cherokees was involved in the death of “Star Trek” actor Anton Yelchin.

It has not been determined if the shifter contributed to the fatal accident that pinned the 27-year-old actor against a mailbox pillar and security fence at his Los Angeles-area home, but the incident has raised concerns over consumer safety and emerging vehicle technologies.

Maserati, according to the documents, is “unaware of complaints of people believing their vehicle in is ‘Park’ and the vehicle is actually in ‘Reverse’ together with zero complaints of a roll away event.

Maserati will notify owners beginning July 1, and dealers will perform a software update, free of charge.

The proposed remedy is a possible software re-flash, according to Maserati. It is expected to be launched by year’s end.

Fiat Chrysler began to provide its 2,427 mainstream vehicle dealers with a fix last week that includes warnings with a transmission-shift strategy to automatically prevent a vehicle from moving, under certain circumstances, even if the driver fails to select “PARK.”

The gear shifter callback is not a typical recall, as the company said the vehicles involved were inspected and no evidence of equipment failure was found. It has more to do with drivers not being used to the new shifters and the automaker not implementing a fail-safe to automatically shift the cars into park when the door is opened. That is part of the expected remedy for the recall.

The shifters in question return to the same position after each manipulation: “Gear-selection is conveyed to the driver by multiple sets of indicator lights, not gear-selector position, and unless due care is taken, drivers may draw erroneous conclusions about the status of their vehicles,” the automaker said earlier this year.

Prior to the vehicles being recalled, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identified more than 306 incidents of Grand Cherokees rolling away after the drivers intended to shift the vehicle into park. Of those incidents, there were 117 alleged crashes, 28 of which reportedly involved injuries — including three fractured pelvises.

NHTSA’s testing found that the electronic gear shifter is “not intuitive” and offers “poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection.”

If a driver opens the door when the gearshift isn’t in park, a chime rings and a message pops up to alert them that the transmission is not in park.

The engine also will not turn off normally without the transmission in park. However, this function does not protect drivers who intentionally leave the engine running or those who do not realize that the engine is still running after they tried to turn it off, NHTSA said.

As a result of the problem, Fiat Chrysler changed the shifter design for the Charger and 300 in model-year 2015, and for the Grand Cherokee in model-year 2016.

mwayland@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2504