Fiat Chrysler can’t seem to stay out of hot water – USA TODAY
For some reason, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles can’t seem to keep itself out of trouble.
Just when one dust-up with the government dies down, it seems another problem pops up.
Fiat Chrysler is now entwined in what could become its biggest problem in recent years -— a federal fraud investigation revealed this week into how the automaker reports sales figures. It’s hard to tell how long the investigation will take, or if the government will bring any charges. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department are both asking questions.
Over the past three years, the automaker has fought with automotive regulators and consumer safety groups. It was in an unflattering spotlight a year ago after some engineers remotely hacked a Jeep Cherokee, and last month actor Anton Yelchin was crushed by a Jeep Grand Cherokee that was part of a recent recall.
Until now, the automaker has escaped a full-blown crisis on the scale of Volkswagen’s emission cheating scandal or the ignition switch recall that engulfed General Motors in congressional hearings and lawsuits for more than a year.
But we can revisit five of FCA’s recent skirmishes with regulators, legal battles and other odd brushes with national and international controversy.
•CEO takes on NHTSA, later agrees to limited “safety campaign”: In June 2013, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it would not recall 2.7 million Jeeps that the government said were defective and prone to fires because of rear-mounted fuel tanks.
The move, which followed a two-year NHTSA investigation, was viewed as highly unusual. Safety advocates railed against the company and the issue generated national news coverage. After several tense weeks, FCA agreed to conduct a “safety campaign” for 1.56 million Jeeps to install trailer hitches for added protection, but it still denies a defect exists.
Safety advocates criticized the remedy as inadequate, but the issue largely faded away after the agreement was reached. Until…
•NHTSA lambastes Fiat Chrysler for slow recalls: In July 2014, NHTSA publicly called out Fiat Chrysler for its slow rate of recall repairs. In other words, Fiat Chrysler was agreeing to recall cars and trucks and was issuing notifications to customers, but it often didn’t have the parts available to actually fix the cars. NHTSA took action after it discovered Fiat Chrysler was, in its opinion, slowly repairing the Jeep SUVs with rear-mounted fuel tanks.
NHTSA concludes Fiat Chrysler’s recall repair rate was unacceptable for more than two dozen recall campaigns covering 11 million vehicles. The result: Fiat Chrysler agreed to pay fines and penalties of up to $105 million and agreed to buy back nearly 200,000 Ram pickups and Dodge SUVs.
At about this time, Marchionne started saying Fiat Chrysler must adjust to a new, more aggressive regulatory environment when it comes to safety and recalls.
•$150-million Jeep verdict: In April, 2015 a jury awarded $150 million to the family of a child killed in an accident involving a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee that caught fire after it was hit from behind. At the time, the lawsuit sparked speculation that the huge award would spark more lawsuits, potentially exposing Fiat Chrysler to more costly jury awards. So far, that hasn’t happened.
•Jeep Cherokee hacked:Wired Magazine published a story last July that explained how two computer-security engineers were able to remotely hack into a Jeep Cherokee and take control over the vehicle.
The report came at a time when awareness of cyber security issues was emerging as a hot topic in the automotive industry. Both regulators and politicians immediately urged the automaker to take action.
Fiat Chrysler stressed that it is unaware of any real-world case where one of its vehicles was hacked. Still, the automaker rapidly developed a patch of its infotainment system and recalled 1.4 million vehicles so dealers could install the fix.
•Rising movie star is crushed by Jeep Grand Cherokee: Anton Yelchin, well-known for playing Chekov in recent Star Trek movies, was crushed by his own 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee in June.
The accident instantly gained worldwide attention because of the popularity of Yelchin, who will star in Star Trek Beyond when it reaches theaters later this month, and because the Jeep is among those FCA had recalled because of a shifter that consumers find confusing.
Mike Manley, head of the Jeep and Ram brands for Fiat Chrysler, expressed condolences for Yelchin and his family and said FCA would like its engineers to inspect the vehicle.
Yelchin’s Jeep was among 1.1 million vehicles in North America that Fiat Chrysler said it would recall in April due to complaints from drivers who had trouble telling if they put the transmission in “park” after stopping. The recall includes model year 2014 and 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees as well as 2012-2014 model year Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans.