NHTSA critical of the pace of repairs to older models involved in gasoline-tank fires
Source: Wall Street Journal
April 28, 2015 – Federal regulators will decide within the next two weeks whether to reopen a probe into older Jeep models involved in fiery rear-end crashes and be “as aggressive as possible” when weighing measures to address the vehicles, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on Tuesday.
“The situation has gotten worse,” said Mark Rosekind, the NHTSA head, referring to additional fatalities in Jeep fires since an array of models were recalled roughly two years ago. He described the pace of repairs on the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Liberty models as “horrible.”
Mr. Rosekind, speaking during a recall summit at Transportation Department headquarters, said he planned to meet with a NHTSA working group next week, at which point “some decisions will be made.” The agency could take action by early next month, he said.
Chrysler, now part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, is installing trailer hitches on the backs of 1.56 million recalled Jeeps with fuel tanks behind the rear axle for added protection in lower-speed collisions. The auto maker told dealers earlier this month that 4% of affected Grand Cherokees and 27% of Libertys had been repaired. The vehicles involved are models from 1993 through 2007. The company told dealers the repair pace had “not met expectations.”
A Fiat Chrysler spokesman said the company “regularly consults with NHTSA and other industry stakeholders regarding this issue” and is “engaged in intensive efforts to accelerate our performance and improve customer response.”
In addition to the 1.56 million Jeeps under recall, more than a million others are subject to a “customer satisfaction campaign.” That includes a 1999 Grand Cherokee that caught fire in March 2012 after a rear-end crash in Georgia, resulting in the death of a 4-year-old boy. A jury in Bainbridge, Ga., earlier this month found Chrysler almost entirely responsible for the boy’s death and awarded $150 million in legal damages to his family.
Chrysler is considering appealing the verdict, and says all the Jeeps are safe, not defective and met government safety standards when they were made.
The company reached a deal with regulators in June 2013 for a limited recall and inspection of the Jeeps. That came after regulators initially requested Chrysler recall 2.7 million Jeeps with rear gas tanks the government found vulnerable to igniting in rear-end collisions and tied to 51 deaths.
Mr. Rosekind said he would also reconsider the trailer-hitch installations that the company and regulators previously agreed on as a fix for the Jeeps. “That’s part of the discussion of options,” he said. “Not just completion, but what they’re actually doing.”
Since the recall was launched, several people have died in fiery rear-end Jeep crashes, including a 23-year-old pregnant woman outside Detroit in November. “More lives have been lost…that’s unacceptable,” Mr. Rosekind said.
Separately, Mr. Rosekind said regulators also will consider possible additional actions related to rupture-prone air bags made by Takata Corp. of Japan. Takata is currently incurring fines of $14,000 a day after regulators said the company wasn’t cooperating with an investigation.
Takata has been more forthcoming guiding the agency toward relevant information contained in 2.4 million documents the air-bag manufacturer provided earlier, Mr. Rosekind said. But he said the guidance on the “document dump” still has “not been sufficient.”
A Takata spokesman declined to comment.
Mr. Rosekind is traveling to Detroit on Wednesday to spend the rest of the week meeting for the first time with the chief executives at General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. Fiat Chyrsler Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne is unavailable, so Mr. Rosekind instead will meet with other senior executives, he said.