Federal regulators have given Chrysler Group LLC the go-ahead to continue with a recall of nearly 1.6 million Jeeps and soon will close their lengthy investigation into whether the vehicles are prone to catching fire in the event of a rear-end crash.
The automaker agreed last June to install a trailer hitch on certain Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty models to add an extra layer of protection for the gas tank, which is located behind the rear axle and below the bumper.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a statement late Friday that it had “no reservations” with Chrysler’s recall plans, which were announced last June. The agency is expected to close its investigation soon and release a final report.
At the request of auto safety advocates, NHTSA began investigating 1993 through 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees. The probe was expanded to include 2002 through 2007 Jeep Libertys. Jeep built the Liberty in Toledo from 2001 to 2012.
NHTSA identified more than 50 fire-related deaths from rear-impact crashes in its inquiry and asked Chrysler to recall some 2.7 million vehicles, saying the location of the gas tank put occupants at risk.
In an unusually public spat, Chrysler initially refused to issue a recall. The automaker later reversed course and agreed to a deal in which it would recall 1.56 million Jeeps to install or inspect trailer hitches. The recall covers 1993 through 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2002 through 2007 Jeep Libertys.
At the time, Chrysler said its own analysis confirmed the vehicles were among the safest in their peer groups.
“Nonetheless, Chrysler Group recognizes that this matter has raised concerns for its customers and wants to take further steps, in coordination with NHTSA, to provide additional measures to supplement the safety of its vehicles,” the company said in a June statement.
Chrysler has maintained through the entirety of the government’s investigation that the vehicles met then-current standards when they were made, that there was no design flaw or defect, and that the vehicles are safe.
NHTSA’s decision to approve the unusual recall action essentially closes the book on the issue.
NHTSA’s outgoing chief, David Strickland, told the Associated Press in an interview last month that Chrysler had convinced NHTSA that the Jeeps were no more dangerous than similar vehicles sold at that time.
“Those vehicles performed at a rate similar to their peers. That is the keystone analysis as to whether something poses an unreasonable risk to safety,” Mr. Strickland said.
NHTSA’s press office was closed Monday in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.
In a statement given to The Blade on Monday, Chrysler Group said it shared NHTSA’s commitment to safety.
“Chrysler Group commends the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the diligence demonstrated over the course of this investigation,” the company said.
Chrysler has not yet begun work on affected vehicles. The company said a safety recall requires complex engineering and close work with NHTSA before accumulating replacement parts.
“In accordance with the announced action, Chrysler Group has finalized replacement-part design and is initiating the tooling process to deliver the required volume,” the company said on Jan. 9.
Owners of the affected vehicles will be contacted by Chrysler.
Chrysler said last year it had set aside $151 million to cover the costs of the recall.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6134.