According to a Sunday press release, Fiat-Chrysler announced that an assembly error detected last month may cause a suspension component to fail in some 2015 Dodge Durango SUVs and Jeep Cherokee models. The automaker said that the rear control arm was not properly heat-treated, causing a defect which is estimated to occur in no more than 13 percent of the vehicles manufactured during the 8-day period that the flawed process occurred. The error was discovered by a supplier who discovered the problem during a quality review, but not before the company manufactured over 7,700 of the vehicles, including at least 5,100 destined for U.S. markets. Specifically, Fiat-Chrysler announced that it will call 65 owners of the vehicles that have already been purchased, urging them to stop driving the vehicles immediately while Fiat-Chrysler arranges for an inspector to come to their house. The remaining vehicles are either at dealerships or are in-transit to dealers. Federal regulations prevent the company from selling any of the vehicles until the recall is completed and all affected vehicles are inspected. Company spokesman, Eric Mayne, also announced that loaner vehicles will be available for customers affected by the recall. The assembly problem has since been corrected and the plant is back to manufacturing the models.
The latest error adds to the list of recalls for Fiat-Chrysler, over 20 in total, affecting more than 10 million vehicles. It is unusual for a company to issue such an urgent recall especially since no deaths or injuries have been reported from the defect; however it is not completely surprising. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the nation’s top auto regulator, will hold a hearing on Thursday to assess if Fiat-Chrysler has acted with appropriate level of urgency in identifying and fixing the myriad of defects. NHTSA chief, Michael Rosekind, has indicated an aggressive posture toward the company since assuming the post last December. After announcing during an April auto show that he is considering re-opening an investigation into Jeep’s exploding gas tank problem, Fiat-Chrysler issued a voluntary recall of about 60,000 vehicles for minor ignition-switch and airbag defects that likewise caused zero deaths or injuries. The urgent recall also comes after the company lost a massive $150 million judgment against a Georgia family after gas tank on 4 year-old Remi Walden’s aunt’s 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee exploded after being rear-ended, burning Walden alive. The accident occurred during the NHTSA’s investigation of Jeep for the gas tank problem on other models. Despite the tragedy, the investigation was closed with the NHTSA agreeing to a makeshift solution of adding hitches to the vehicles’ bumpers to increase the distance from the point of impact to the gas tank. The former NHTSA Administrator in charge during the investigation, David Strickland, resigned in December, 2013 to become a lobbyist for the auto industry, although the agreement was finalized in 2014, under interim director and current NHTSA deputy director, David Friedman.
CNN Money – Jackie Wattles
Detroit Free Press – Brent Snavely
New York Times – Christopher Jensen