Special to SEGAZINE
Nearly 10 months after agreeing to recall 1.56 million Jeeps — and about four years since the government investigation began — Chrysler still is gearing up to fix the SUVs.
Safety advocates critical of Chrysler’s slow reaction say the company is taking too long in another case showing the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration’s inability and unwillingness to effectively regulate the auto industry.
“It took a very long time for Chrysler to agree to do this, and the agency had to be forced to act,” said Joan Claybrook, a consumer advocate and former head of NHTSA.
There are some similarities between the Jeep recall and the one that has thrust General Motors into the spotlight since February. Chrysler is dealing with 1.56 million older model SUVs while GM is recalling about 2.6 million older small cars.
Both alleged defects — a rear-mounted gas tank at risk for fiery rear-end collisions in the Jeep SUVs and ignition switches that can shut off while driven — have been linked to fatal accidents.
There are, however, key differences. While Chrysler has agreed to conduct a safety campaign to install trailer hitches to provide additional protection in low-speed crashes, the automaker still contends its SUVs are not defective. The automaker has not said when the trailer hitches will be ready.
GM, in contrast, has apologized repeatedly for the ignition switch defects and has said the first parts to begin repairs are arriving at dealers this week.
Chrysler spokesman Eric Mayne said multiple suppliers are making the trailer hitches necessary to complete the recall.
“Launching a safety recall demands complex engineering and close collaboration with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration well before we accumulate replacement parts,” Chrysler said in a statement. “Chrysler Group takes seriously its commitment to customer safety.”
Meanwhile, NHTSA plans to issue its final report on the Jeep investigation “in the coming weeks.”