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Chrysler Jeep Recall: Company's Choice Could Be Disastrous

The McClellan Law Firm

Chrysler Refuses to Issue Recall

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently requested that Chrysler Group LLC issue a recall of 2.7 million Jeep Grand Cherokees (model years 1993 to 2004) and Libertys (2002 to 2007). Chrysler's response? "The subject vehicles are safe and not defective."

Chrysler has refused to issue a recall on its potentially defective SUVs, claiming that "NHTSA's initial conclusions are based on an incomplete analysis of the underlying data."

According to the NHTSA, the vehicles can start on fire during rear-end collisions. Car fires involving the Grand Cherokee and Liberty models have killed more than 50 people. Upon learning of Chrysler's refusal to take action, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said, "NHTSA hopes that Chrysler will reconsider its position and take action to protect its customers and the driving public."

Is Chrysler Putting Profit Above Public Safety?

The vehicles in question have gas tanks behind their rear axles. According to the NHTSA, Chrysler was aware that it was safer to place the gas tanks in front of the rear axles but refused to do so for these vehicles. Now, consumers who have the Jeeps in question will have to wait for Chrysler to agree to a recall or for the NHTSA to order a recall through court proceedings—if those steps ever take place. The last time an auto manufacturer refused to recall vehicles was two years ago, when Ford Motor Co. ignored an NHTSA request to recall its F-150 trucks for air bag defects. Ford eventually recalled the vehicles under significant government pressure.

Public Response to Recall Refusal

Chrysler now faces an uphill battle.

The negative publicity generated by such a move can cause significant damage to an automobile company. Take, for example, Chrysler's statement that its vehicles meet legal standards and are comparable to others sold at the same time. That statement was met with disgust by the NHTSA. "The existence of a minimum standard does not require NHTSA to ignore deadly problems," Strickland said.

According to a survey by Auto Trader, 34% of Americans lose some faith in an auto manufacturer every time a recall is announced. Yet, when a car company chooses to voluntarily recall a vehicle, 54% of people think more favorably of that company. These numbers indicate a preference for auto companies that "do the right thing."

The NHTSA's recall request is enough to make consumers nervous and lose faith in Chrysler, but the company's refusal to issue a recall can only make the situation worse. This is true even if Chrysler is right that the SUV fire incidents investigated by the NHTSA were high-energy collisions during which auto fires would have occurred regardless of the fuel tank design.

As one author explained to CNN:

"It's going to be this long drama that everyone watches. There will be testimony about children burning in fires. Even if the data is in [Chrysler's] favor, do you know many people who are statisticians?"

Chrysler has said it will refuse to issue a recall even if that means it must go to federal court over the issues. The company has until June 18 to reply to the NHTSA. After that date, the NHTSA may release a defect finding, gather public comments on the issue and then, depending on the facts, order a recall. If Chrysler continues to disagree about the recall, it can bring the NHTSA to federal court. Similarly, NHTSA can request the court to order Chrysler to recall the vehicles.