Fiat Chrysler wants to probe dead ‘Star Trek’ actor’s SUV – USA TODAY
CHELSEA, Mich. — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles would like to have its own team of investigators evaluate the Jeep Grand Cherokee that was involved in the death of actor Anton Yelchin, a top executive said Thursday.
Mike Manley, who is head of Fiat Chrysler’s Ram and Jeep brands, said there is very little the automaker can say until the investigation of the accident is complete.
Yelchin, 27, died Saturday after his car rolled backward down his steep driveway and pinned him against a brick mailbox pillar and security fence. His 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee is among the vehicles that FCA has recalled to add safety features to a gear shifter that some owners find confusing and can be dangerous if inadvertently left in the wrong gear.
“First, from my perspective and (Fiat Chrysler’s) perspective, we are obviously extending our deep sympathies to the family and friends,” of Yelchin, Manley said today at a media event the automaker is hosting at its proving grounds in Chelsea. “Obviously we would like our own people to go over the vehicle. However that may or may not happen.”
Until an investigation is complete, there is not much more FCA can say, Manley said.
“There is a huge amount of speculation and I am not entirely sure that is useful at this moment,” Manley said.
Yelchin played Chekov in Star Trek Beyond, a movie that hits theaters on July 22, as well as two other recent Star Trek movies. His death, and its possible connection to the recall, has garnered international attention and dozens of stories in the entertainment media.
While Fiat Chrysler has issued statements about the accident and the recall process, Manley’s comments today are the first direct comments from a company executive since the actor died.
Yelchin’s Jeep was among 1.1 million vehicles in North America that FCA 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.
NHTSA began investigating the issue last August and pressured the automaker to conduct the recall. Before Yelchin died, Fiat Chrysler had identified 202 crashes and 41 injuries potentially related to the issue, but also said the vehicles involved were inspected and no evidence of equipment failure was found.
The recalled vehicles have an electronic shift lever that toggles forward or backward to let the driver select the gear instead of moving along a track with notches for each gear like a conventional shifter. A light shows which gear is selected, but to get from drive to park, drivers must push the lever forward three times. If a vehicle is in drive and the lever is pressed just once, it goes into neutral and could roll if on a slope.
To fix the problem, Fiat Chrysler has developed new software that can be installed by dealers that will add safety functions.
Some media reports have suggested that Fiat Chrysler has accelerated its efforts to recall and fix the vehicles because of Yelchin’s death.
Manley said today the automaker was already working to accelerate the recall process. FCA initially told NHTSA it would not have the new software necessary to fix available the vehicles until the end of the year.
In May, Fiat Chrysler told NHTSA that a fix would be available in July. The automaker started providing its 2,427 dealers with a software update last week, days before Yelchin died. Fiat Chrysler plans to begin sending notices to customers telling them that their local dealer can download the new software on Friday.
“Any recall, whatever the remedy may be, each one has the intense focus of our team and is completed as soon as possible,” Manley said.