Chrysler’s unusual response to a NHTSA recall of about 1.6 million Jeep vehicles over rear-impact fire hazards hits a snag with safety groups.
Even the exec in charge of engineering at the time cites opposition to the fix.
Chrysler’s response to a recall of about 1.6 million Jeep Liberty and Grand Cherokee models over rear-impact fire hazards depends on the protection a trailer hitch would provide for the gas tank. But tow hitches were not designed to protect the gas tank, according to the executive who was in charge of engineering when Jeeps like the Grand Cherokee were designed.
In addition, safety groups say that before letting Chrysler use such an unusual remedy, crash tests should be commissioned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — which has no safety standard detailing the construction and strength of trailer hitches, part of what automakers typically call a tow package.
“The tow package does not protect the tank,” François J. Castaing, Chrysler’s vice president for engineering in 1988–96, said in a 2011 deposition. “The skid plate underneath only protects the tank from stones from the ground.”
Though Chrysler has agreed to a recall of some models, its position, explained in a filing with N.H.T.S.A., is that the Jeeps are safe and that the fatalities occurred in such severe crashes that no S.U.V. of that era would have done better.
The safety agency disagrees and has said it believes the vehicles “contain defects related to motor vehicle safety.” The agency says it is aware of 51 deaths in rear-impact crashes that resulted in fires.
The Center for Auto Safety, whose 2009 request to N.H.T.S.A. to investigate the fire issue led to the recall, said its research found 161 deaths in 115 crashes that involved fires resulting from rear-impact collisions or rollovers. The center says a fuel-filler hose on the Grand Cherokee is also prone to pulling loose, something the safety agency did not investigate.