In an almost unprecedented move, Chrysler has rejected a request from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to recall about 2.7 million SUVs. The government claims that fuel tanks from the 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty are defective and prone to leaks, which can result in fatal fires in the event of a rear-end collision.
The government investigation turned up 44 fatal accidents involving the Grand Cherokee that resulted in 55 deaths with fire listed as the primary cause for loss of life. According to the NHTSA, 10 of these crashes were the result of a rear-end collision.
For its part, Chrysler simply disagrees.
"The company does not agree with NHTSA's conclusions and does not intend to recall the vehicles cited in the investigation," the company said in a press release. "The subject vehicles are safe and are not defective. We believe NHTSA's initial conclusions are based on an incomplete analysis of the underlying data, and we are committed to continue working with the Agency to resolve this disagreement,"
Chrysler claims that the fatal car fires were unrelated to the fuel tanks, which the government considers defective. In its defense, the company cites one instance included in the NHTSA report where a tractor-trailer hit a Grand Cherokee while going 65 mph. The SUV wasn't moving.
"After an exhaustive engineering analysis, Chrysler Group has found no evidence that the fuel systems in the subject vehicles are defective in either their design or manufacture,"
the company said Tuesday. "The 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty are among the safest vehicles of their era."
While that might be true statistically, it does not allay any of the specific design faults in question. The NHTSA and Center for Auto Safety, an advocacy group, claim that Cherokee and Liberty SUVs utilized a gas tank positioned in a way that rendered it vulnerable to rupture, both in a rear-end and rollover crash.
Chrysler's response has essentially been to reiterate its commitment to safety, but it is beyond likely that we've not heard the last word in this debate.
"The safety of drivers and passengers has long been the first priority for Chrysler brands and that commitment remains steadfast," said Sergio Marchionne, chairman and CEO of Chrysler Group LLC. "The company stands behind the quality of its vehicles. All of us remain committed to continue working with NHTSA to provide information confirming the safety of these vehicles."
The last line suggests Chrysler's refusal may simply be a negotiating tactic. The company pledges to continue working with the NHTSA, but refuses to issue what will surely be a very expensive recall. The NHTSA has not yet responded.