Despite intense objections last week, Chrysler Group has agreed to recall 2.7 million Jeeps. The announcement was made hours before a government deadline on the issue.
In a rare move, Chrysler had defied a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recall request maintaining its Jeeps were safe and challenging the regulator’s collision data analysis. The NHTSA said that the rear-mounted gas tanks in 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty vehicles are too vulnerable to leaking and could catch on fire in a rear-end crash, according to ABC News previously. Although the NHTSA can call for a recall, the agency requires a court order to enforce that demand.
The NHTSA investigation into the Jeeps was initiated in August 2010 following a request by consumer advocacy group, the Center for Auto Safety, according to ABC News. Clarence Ditlow, the Center’s director, had sent numerous letters to Chrysler seeking a recall.
According to the NHTSA, the Jeeps’ fuel tanks can fail in a rear impact collision, leaking fuel and causing fires in the presence of an ignition source, said ABC News. The gas tanks’ placement behind the rear axle and the height of the tank above the road represents a design defect, according to the regulator. In 2004, Chrysler moved the Grand Cherokee’s fuel tanks ahead of the rear axle; the car maker did the same in 2007 with the Liberty, according to ABC News. Retrofitting older Jeeps with repositioned tanks is costly—about $240 million according to analyst estimates.
Despite its agreement to initiate a recall, Chrysler continues to maintain its Jeep vehicles are safe, according to CNN Money, issuing a statement that it would recall the vehicles for inspection and, in “some cases,” will “provide an upgrade to the rear structure of the vehicle to better manage crash forces in low-speed impacts.” The company added that, “Chrysler Group recognizes that this matter has raised concerns for its customers and wants to take further steps, in coordination with NHTSA, to provide additional measures to supplement the safety of its vehicles.”
The NHTSA said it was pleased that “Chrysler has agreed to take action to protect its customers and the driving public” and that “consumers impacted by the safety recall and customer satisfaction campaign should have their vehicles serviced promptly once they receive notification from Chrysler.” The agency said its investigation continues, according to CNN Money.
Had Chrysler not agreed to act by the deadline, it would have been facing high-profile public hearings and testimony from car safety advocates and the parents of children who burned to death in fires. The hearing would have harmed the car maker’s reputation, regardless of the outcome, noted CNN Money.
“It strikes me that Chrysler underestimated the negative publicity they’d get out of fighting, and that they decided it was better off to go ahead and do the recall,” Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at Edmunds.com, told CNN Money. “It’s still an uphill battle for Chrysler in the perception of quality and [a hearing] could [have] set it back.”
Meanwhile, an online survey conducted by Kelley Blue Book last week found that 64 percent of responders said they would not consider purchasing or leasing a vehicle from an automaker who fights a recall, said CNN Money.
Chrysler faces a number of wrongful death lawsuits, according to CNN Money. In fact, the NHTSA says some 37 accidents caused fires that led to at least 51 fatalities.