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China halts Wrangler imports

Safety agency: Automatic transmission can cause fire

China-halts-Wrangler-imports

Chrysler exported 2,977 Jeep Wranglers to China in 2010 and 1,060 so far this year, according to a Chrysler spokesman.

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The top Chinese consumer safety agency has suspended that nation's importation of Toledo-made Jeep Wranglers, alleging that their automatic transmissions can cause vehicle fires under certain conditions.

China Daily, China's national English-language newspaper, said officials from China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine had indicated late last week that the country would suspend Wrangler imports after "consumers in China [reporting] several cases of imported Jeep Wranglers catching fire." It said the problem was traced to the vehicle's four-speed automatic transmission and related systems. The newspaper reported that the Chinese consumer safety agency had "urged Chrysler ... to determine the cause of the problems and solve them."

Todd Goyer, a spokesman for Chrysler Group LLC, said the automaker "is cooperating fully" to "identify and fix 2008-2010 model year Jeep Wrangler SUVs equipped with automatic transmissions and sold in China." He said the automaker issued a global recall in February, 2010, "to address a potential for transmission fluid to overheat and expel onto hot surfaces that could pose a fire hazard. The conditions were linked to extreme and/or abusive driving conditions under rigorous off-road conditions."

Mr. Goyer said that "outside of China, Chrysler Group is not aware of any vehicle fires related to this condition once the recall was completed" and was "not aware of any injuries or accidents due to this condition."

A review of complaints filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the United States found five consumers who had reported overheated or smoking automatic transmissions from Jeep Wranglers, including two vehicle fires. No injuries were reported in the incidents.

Chrysler exported 2,977 Wranglers to China in 2010, and 1,060 so far this year, Chrysler spokesman Ariel Gavilan said. But, Chrysler's Italian partner, Fiat SpA, is working to expand its presence in the world's fastest-growing market and has said that Jeep branded vehicles would help it lead the way to access Chinese consumers.

In a note to clients, Shanghai-based automotive analysts with IHS Global Insight said the Chinese regulatory agency's move to suspend Wrangler importations "shows that the government body is serious about plans to strengthen its influence over vehicle quality. Chinese car buyers use the Internet to keep up to date about global recalls and issues regarding safety, often prompting local media to follow up on reports by consumers of substandard parts and vehicle safety issues. The [government's] statement does not mention whether Chrysler will now recall Jeep Wrangler vehicles in China to address the issue."

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at: lvellequette@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.

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