The completion of a long-standing vehicle recall effort, which Chrysler tried to fight at first, seems to finally be heading into the clubhouse turn.
The recall required Chrysler to resolve serious safety shortcomings that could lead to fuel tank leakage or fires in the 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty and the 1993-1998 Grand Cherokee models.
The vehicles were originally recalled in June 2013, after a period of recalcitrance on Chrysler's part. Before Chrysler's acquiescence, the occurrence of at least 51 deaths from fuel tank fires caused by rear-end collisions did not move the company from its stance that there is no defect and that they would not recall the vehicles. They also tried to take advantage of a 10-year statute of limitations on recalls.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Chrysler dragged its feet getting the recall under way, especially after it was determined that the installation of a trailer hitch on affected vehicles (a total of 1.56 million Jeeps and Grand Cherokees) would resolve the issue to NHTSA's satisfaction. The trailer hitch would create an additional energy-absorbing crash zone and lengthen the distance between the tail of the vehicle and the fuel tank.
The recalled vehicles were vulnerable because their fuel tanks were installed behind the rear axle. Later and current models have the fuel tank installed in front of the rear axle, a much safer location.
The NHTSA noted Chrysler didn't choose a hitch supplier until early December 2013, and did not start manufacturing hitches until May of this year. In its letter to Chrysler, NHTSA said "It will take Chrysler at least 4.7 years and 2.06 years, respectively, to produce the required number of Grand Cherokee and Liberty parts at the current rate of production."
NHTSA also said "For many owners, a recall remedy deferred by parts availability easily becomes a defect remedy denied."
Chrysler was told to respond to the letter by July 16. In its response to NHTSA, Chrysler now claims it can complete the recall work by March 2015, significantly sooner than its original target date of sometime in 2018.
Chrysler claimed it has paid for additional robots at its supplier to speed production of the hitches. However, officials also noted fewer affected models were on the road, and some models already had trailer hitches installed in the aftermarket, meaning fewer vehicles requiring attention.