Chrysler and the Jeep – Outlier?

So Chrysler has thrown down the gauntlet, and its claque has dutifully delivered its standing O. Atta boy, Chrysler, tell those regulators to stick it!

As usual, those opining about Chrysler’s public resistance to recalling the 1993 – 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2002 -2007 Libertys for defective fuel tanks haven’t a bloody clue. And so, as usual, The Safety Record Blog will put Chrysler’s shot across the bow into its proper context.

To recap: In November 2009, the Center for Auto Safety petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to open an investigation into fuel-fed fires plaguing the early model Jeep Grand Cherokees, alleging that the plastic fuel tank’s placement behind the rear axle and below the rear bumper, and the lack of adequate shielding made it more vulnerable to rupture or leakage from rear-impacts and in rollovers. According to Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data, this design resulted in 172 fatal fire crashes with 254 fatalities, CAS said. The agency granted the CAS petition in August 2010, and opened a Preliminary Evaluation. In June 2012, ODI bumped up the investigation to an Engineering Analysis. Two weeks ago, NHTSA announced that it had requested that Chrysler recall the 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2002 -2007 Liberty and was ready to go to an Initial Decision hearing if Chrysler refused.

So far, Chrysler has refused. Its preliminary defense was laid out in a “White Paper” (see NHTSA Drops Hammer on Chrysler Jeeps) Yes, it was written on virtual white paper. But we expected something a little more detailed than a three-page press release and a chart with writing so tiny, one needs to blow it up 500 percent to read it. Its basic argument is, and has always been, this: The Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Jeep Liberty met the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 301 fuel tank integrity at the time, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Liberty, statistically are not outliers for rear-impact fuel-fed fires. (Chrysler has until next Tuesday to file its official response.) 

Sounds reasonable, no? Let’s unpack it. Continue reading

NHTSA Drops the Hammer on Chrysler Jeeps

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After a lengthy investigation stemming from a 2009 Center for Auto Safety petition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ratcheted to a rare level of enforcement. According to a letter the agency sent to Chrysler yesterday, ODI  reached the “tentative” conclusion that the 1993 – 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee (ZJ and WJ) and the MY 2002 – 2007 Jeep Liberty were defective because the fuel tank location, behind the rear axle, rendered it vulnerable to rear impact fires.  NHTSA requested Chrysler recall the vehicles. 

NHTSA’s letter warns Chrysler that if the company doesn’t recall the defective Jeeps, it may move to find an Initial Decision that these vehicles contain a safety-related defect under 49 U.S.C. § 30118. 

“An Initial Decision will be accompanied by the publication of a Federal Register notice describing the alleged defects, the safety consequences of these defects, the ODI investigation, the scheduling of a public meeting, and the issuance of a press release to inform the public of this matter.”

In response, Chrysler issued a “white paper” disputing NHTSA’s conclusions. Chrysler has long argued that 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees were no more likely to catch fire than similar vehicles and that the vehicle meets the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 301, Fuel System Integrity. Chrysler has based its claims on its own creative statistical analysis.

Adding fuel to fire against the Jeep Cherokee defect is a public campaign by Jenelle Embrey, who had been spending about $2,000 a month to fund three billboards in the Frederick County Virginia area, depicting a Jeep Grand Cherokee engulfed by flames and the plea: “Help Save Innocent Families Jeeps. On October 5, Embrey witnessed the deaths of a mother and her teenage son in fiery explosion, after their Jeep Grand Cherokee was struck from behind. (see Jeep Fire Advocacy Heats up While Investigation Stalls)

That’s the kind of nightmarish negative publicity that no car company is interested in attracting, but the threat of an Initial Decision, with all of the associated public outreach NHTSA plans to do, on top of that?