US will punish Fiat Chrysler over recall failures – USA TODAY
WASHINGTON—The chief U.S. government official in charge of auto safety said Thursday that he will punish Fiat Chrysler Automobiles after regulators accused the automaker of flubbing recall fixes and repeatedly failing to notify the U.S. government and vehicle owners about defects.
The automaker, which controls the Auburn Hills, Mich.-based car company previously called Chrysler Group, is under scrutiny for its handling of 23 recalls involving about 11 million vehicles.
Fiat Chrysler could faces fines or other penalties — including a requirement that it buy back vehicles from consumers — after National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials concluded that the automaker failed to follow federal laws requiring expeditious recall notifications and fixes.
After NHTSA officials presented evidence at a hearing at the Department of Transportation, NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind told reporters that he will take action against the automaker — possibly as soon as this month.
“What you heard here is there’s a pattern that’s been going on for some time, frankly,” Rosekind said.
Rosekind did not rule out passing along the Fiat Chrysler case to the U.S. Justice Department for a criminal investigation.
One option for NHTSA is a consent agreement in which Fiat Chrysler agrees to improve its recall process and submit to additional government oversight.
Jennifer Timian, acting director of NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation and chief of its Recall Management Division, said Fiat Chrysler’s recall shortcomings are “widespread,” with notices sometimes being distributed months late.
Scott Kunselman, senior vice president of vehicle safety and regulatory compliance for Fiat Chrysler’s North American operations, acknowledged the company “could’ve done better” without offering specifics.
But he said Fiat Chrysler has moved quickly to add recall officials and safety investigators to comply with NHTSA demands. Kunselman, who left the meeting quickly after its conclusion, also said the company is implementing a system to improve communications and aid dealers in fixing cars.
Fiat Chrysler will have 10 days to submit a written response to the allegations after the passing of a July 17 for the collection of new information about the automaker’s recalls.
The hearing comes amid a greater spotlight on the auto industry’s recall processes, following a firestorm of attention on Toyota’s unintended acceleration controversy and General Motors’ ignition-switch defect in recent years. Last year, for example, GM agreed to pay the maximum NHTSA fine of $35 million.
“People die when manufacturers fail to remedy recalled vehicles,” said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.
The spotlight is especially intense on Fiat Chrysler.
In one case, Timian said, Fiat Chrysler recalled and fixed Jeep SUVs that were prone to inadvertent air bag deployment. But the fix didn’t work, she said, because NHTSA continued to receive reports of inadvertent air bag deployments in vehicles that dealers repaired.
In another case, the company said it had fixed a problem with headliner wiring that could ignite a fire in some Jeep and Dodge vehicles. But NHTSA received reports of more fires after the vehicles were recalled and fixed.
What’s more, Fiat Chrysler provided inconsistent, insufficient and inaccurate information to NHTSA regarding recalls and defects, agency officials said.
“Fiat Chrysler’s failure to provide timely, accurate and complete information to NHTSA on its recalls impedes our ability to do our job, which is to help ensure the safety of this nation’s roadways,” Timian said.
Scott Yon, chief of the vehicle integrity division of NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation, said Fiat Chrysler is much worse at handling recalls than other automakers.
“Fiat Chrysler takes a long time to produce the parts needed to get vehicles fixed. Their dealers have difficulty getting parts for recalls. Their customers have trouble getting recall repairs done. Fiat Chrysler’s recall remedies sometimes fail to remedy the defects they are supposed to fix,” Yon said.
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