(UNDATED) - Nearly seven months after telling the federal government it would recall 1.56 million vehicles, Chrysler is sending initial notices to owners and is starting to produce the parts needed to complete the promised service work.
Chrysler reports it "has finalized replacement-part design and is initiating the tooling process to deliver the required volume. Chrysler is making all reasonable efforts to obtain the parts as quickly as possible."
In June, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asked Chrysler to recall nearly three million older model Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty vehicles because of a fire hazard with the fuel tank. It is placed behind the rear axle in those SUVs, and federal investigators say that is a design flaw that means in a rear-impact crash, the tank can rupture and catch fire.
Chrysler says the vehicles to not have a design defect and data shows its vehicles are safe. In a very unusual move, Chrysler refused the government's requested recall. Instead, the automaker proposed a more limited recall to supplement safety and a "customer satisfaction campaign." Jeep will inspect vehicles and install trailer hitches when appropriate to "upgrade the performance of the rear structure" of the vehicles. Chrysler told NHTSA the hitches will "incrementally improve" performance in some low-speed crashes.
Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, first petitioned the NHTSA to launch the investigation into fuel tank concerns. He told 13 Investigates he is frustrated by the long time it has taken to notify customers. However, he says if that time has been used to crash test the proposed trailer hitch or do other testing, he would be more understanding.
NHTSA declined to comment specifically on the length of time to send initial recall notices. However, a spokesperson did tell 13 Investigates the agency is monitoring the recall process and is in close communication with Chrysler.
Chrysler Group issued a statement saying, "Launching a safety recall demands complex engineering and close collaboration with NHTSA well before we accumulate replacement parts. Chrysler Group takes seriously its commitment to customer safety."
Safety advocates, including Ditlow and former NHTSA director Joan Claybrook, have expressed concern about the trailer hitch proposal. Ditlow called the addition of a hitch a "sham" that will not effectively protect a rear-mounted fuel tank.
NHTSA confirms that its investigation is still open "pending completion of the agency's evaluation of the remedy announced by Chrysler to ensure the risk presented by vehicles is being adequately addressed." A final report will be published when the analysis is finished.
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