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Jeep Recall Much Smaller than NHTSA Demanded

Only 1.5 mil vehicles under recall; another 1.2 mil subject to limited “service action.”

by on Jun.19, 2013

Almost 1.2 million Jeep Grand Cherokees built between 1999 and 2004 will be subject to a "service action," not a recall.

About 1.2 million Jeeps originally listed as part of a controversial recall demanded by federal safety authorities have been effectively excluded from the compromise between Chrysler and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, TheDetroitBureau.com has learned.

A potential showdown between the Detroit maker and NHTSA was narrowly averted on Tuesday, hours before a deadline for Chrysler to either accept or reject the recall of 2007 older Jeeps the government was demanding. NHTSA claimed the Grand Cherokee and Liberty models were at risk of catching fire in rear-end collisions, a problem the government linked to at least 51 reported deaths.

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After initially saying it was not going to recall the vehicles – insisting there was no defect – Chrysler reversed course on Tuesday afternoon and announced a settlement.  Initial reports indicated the maker had essentially caved to NHTSA’s demands and would recall the 2.7 million SUVs, including Grand Cherokees sold between 1993 and 2004, and Liberty models marketed between 2002 and 2007.

In fact, only 1.56 million of those vehicles are actually subject to a safety recall – all the Liberty SUVs and Grand Cherokees sold during the 1993 through 1998 model-years.

The remaining Jeep utes, Grand Cherokees marketed from 1999 to 2004, are covered by a much less extensive “service action,” according to Chrysler.

(TheDetroitBureau.com’s original report on the Jeep recall. Click Here.)

The difference is significant.  The recall will involve installation of a protective shield meant to reduce the likelihood that in the event of a rear-end collision gas tanks mounted behind the rear axles of the two Jeep models might leak and catch fire.

A large portion of the roughly 1.2 million vehicles subject to the service action, however, will undergo no modifications.  The only modifications would occur if one of those Jeep Grand Cherokees were equipped with an aftermarket trailer hitch, something that appears to increase the risk of a gas tank being damaged in a collision.  In such an instance, Chrysler officials explained, the hitch would be replaced by a factory trailer hitch designed to minimize the risk of a fire.

Asked whether this change in the original recall proposal led to a compromise between NHTSA and Chrysler, a senior company official told TheDetroitBureau.com that would “incorrect to say.”

Like other officials at both Chrysler and NHTSA, the source requested anonymity. Both the maker and the government have restricted on-the-record comments, pointing to official news releases and legal filings.

Significantly, a letter sent by Vice President Matthew Liddane, head of Chrysler’s Regulatory Affairs,  to NHTSA on June 18th repeated the company position that the maker “does not agree that the risk of fuel leakage in low-speed impacts constitutes a safety-related defect within the meaning of the federal safety laws.”

But in several background conversations, it appears that Chrysler reversed course for several reasons.  The reduced number of vehicles covered by the actual recall certainly helped.  So did language in the agreement that downplays the word “defect,” a less-than-subtle shift when it comes to potential litigation that might arise out of Jeep fires.

The automaker also was clearly aware of the potential public backlash should it resist NHTSA’s demands.  The government agency has become more aggressive in policing safety-related issues since it was criticized for allowing Toyota to avoid a recall for problems related to unintended acceleration.  The Japanese maker went on to recall millions of vehicles during 2009 and 2010 for several related concerns, including sticky accelerator assemblies.

Separately, TheDetroitBureau.com has learned that NHTSA’s original engineering analysis related to concerns about gas tank fires first included millions of additional vehicles, most sold under the Jeep Cherokee nameplate. Those products were dropped from the recall request the government announced earlier this month and from the subsequent settlement with Chrysler – meaning only about a third of the 5 million Jeeps first examined will actually be recalled.

NHTSA officials have not yet responded to questions about the decision to limit the vehicles they targeted for recall.

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One Response to “Jeep Recall Much Smaller than NHTSA Demanded”

  1. Jorge M. says:

    I’m all for safety but from what I have read I believe NHTSA is actually wrong on this issue and they effectively strong-armed Chrysler by manipulating public opinion via the media. It should be interesting to see the outcome. I would not be surprised to see Chrylser sue NHTSA for brand disparagement and they could very well win in court. This might be a necessary checks and balances to get NHTSA to do a better job on their safety and defect research and conclusions.

    Now that NHTSA receives $7 per car sold to hire competent personnel, they have a responsibility to get their conclusions right and not display knee-jerk reactions to perceived safety defects 10+ years after a vehicle was produced.