Chrysler's recall refusal risks its rising reputation

The carmaker claims the government's analysis is flawed, but public opinion isn't likely to stay on the company's side.

By Jonathan Berr Jun 5, 2013 11:44AM
A Chrysler badge is pictured on a new car at a dealership in Vienna, Virginia on April 26, 2012 (© Kevin Lamarque/Newscom/Reuters)When Doug Betts, Chrysler's chief customer officer, predicted in 2009 that the automaker's performance in third-party quality rankings would improve dramatically, few believed that could happen, considering how dismal the automaker's reputation was for so long. But it did happen, which makes the company's unusual decision to fight a government recall so strange.

At issue is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's request for Chrysler to recall more than 2.7 million Jeeps with rear-mounted gas tanks that NHTSA says makes them susceptible to catching fire in a rear-end crash. The affected models are the 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which has had 32 crashes resulting in 44 deaths, and the 2002-07 Jeep Liberty, which has had five accidents resulting in seven deaths. 

According to Chrysler, which is controlled by Italy's Fiat, NHTSA's conclusions are based on "an incomplete analysis of the underlying data, and we are committed to continue working with the Agency to resolve this disagreement."

In the court of public opinion, however, discussions of statistical analysis aren't going to reverberate, especially when TV news shows continue to show horrifying images of Chrysler vehicles engulfed in flames. The Center for Auto Safety, a nonprofit that pushed for the recall, has accused the automaker of placing profits above safety.  

"In NHTSA's history of defect investigations and recalls, there has never been one where four-year-old children in child restraints have burned to death in fire crashes until now," according to a letter the center sent to the agency.

Chrysler appears to be ignoring the lessons of the 2009 dust-up between regulators and Toyota (TM) over the risk of sudden acceleration. It took the Japanese automaker quite a while to recover from the resulting public relations drubbing.

For Chrysler, the timing of this fight couldn't be worse.

Like other automakers, Chrysler's sales are soaring, thanks to the improving U.S. economy. Sales in May jumped 11% versus a year ago, the company's best monthly performance since 2007. Its credibility with consumers has been improving in recent years as well.

According to, the company has made "major improvements in the performance, design and quality of its midsize sedan entry, the 200. The latest 300 also stands as a prime choice for a premium full-size sedan."  

While falling short of gushing praise, those comments represent hard-fought gains for a much-beleaguered brand -- and they could be endangered by Chrylser's short-sightedness in fighting the recall.

Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter@ jdberr.

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Tags: AutosTM
Jun 5, 2013 12:51PM

Damn, hang those guys at Chrysler, 49 deaths in 20 years in jeeps caused by fire. But lets not stop there, we need to dig deep and find a way to stop the other 750,000 deaths during that period. We need to dig deep and find those deep pockets.


Ok, I'm not against correcting a problem but this doesn't compare to the Flaming Fords of the 70's-80's. It surely doesn't need to be presented in a light that the company is trying to cover up something.

Common Sense Reporting is all I want.

Jun 5, 2013 6:32PM
I own a '09 Dodge Journey. It has a Re-Call for undersized Brake Systems. I called about mine and they said,"I don't have a Servce Record from the Dealer, So They don't have to Honor IT."  I thought they had to do ALL Vehicles Involved with the RE-CALL,Guess I was Wrong. Stay away from their Products, They are Over-Priced pieces of Crap. Nothing Like the MOPARS of Old.
Jun 5, 2013 3:36PM

This is a problem caused by the placement of the fuel tank behind the rear axle.  These vehicles were designed that way and there is no other place to put the tank on vehicles already built, which would seem to be the only way to fix the problem. 


To me it's a simple case of government regulators with no knowledge of automobile design demanding the impossible from Chrysler.


I'm reminded of the inception of airbags back in 1990.  All the Naderites demanded bags capable of protecting an UNBELTED driver (diety forbid anyone be required to take any responsibility for their own safety by clicking a seatbelt).  When injuries occurred due to these powerful bags the same Naderites blamed the mfgs., not their own insistence on overpowered airbags.

Jun 5, 2013 8:52PM
Cars with tanks behind the rear axle are always susceptible to fires in rear end crashes. There are millions of cars and trucks on the road with the same problem!! These were built this way for years. It is tragic to see someone die from a fire in these vehicles, but it would be interesting to know how many other vehicles had people die in their crashes.  Ford has had many fire issues with the cruise control de-activator switch mounted on the brake fluid tank. The pick up trucks were recalled, but the vans were not. People that had their vans catch fire, just had to eat the loss. I think they all have problems,
Jun 5, 2013 6:29PM
maybe we need to recall the vehicles that caused the accident for faulty brake systems
Jun 5, 2013 6:41PM

Another case of government overreaching without regard to reality.  The statistical data says these vehicles are no less safe than their peers when they were built, yet the nanny state sees what they believe to be an anomaly and needs to justify their existence in the court of public opinion.  Perhaps everyone forgets that these vehicles passed all applicable federal safety standards when they were sold.  If anyone is to blame, then blame the regulators who apparently were negligent in their crash testing.


It's truly tragic when people die in vehicle accidents.  Unfortunately, in spite of over a hundred years of advances in safety and medical treatment, people still die in vehicle accidents.  There will never come a time when vehicle fatalities will be completely eliminated.  It's good that we try to reduce that risk, but there comes a time when people need to stop blaming and need to examine their own motives.




Jun 6, 2013 10:54AM
I would not want a gas tank in front of the axle under my seat.
Jun 6, 2013 2:39PM
All those years, and out of 2.7 million vehicles, only that many deaths/crashes? Hell I'd fight the recall too... 
Jun 6, 2013 1:35PM
44 deaths in over 20 years? Who cares! That's not worth a recall!
Jun 6, 2013 1:07PM
Lets see, 2.7 million vehicles, 44 deaths from 32 accidents. That's sounds safer than walking down the street. How many of those accidents were due to stupid drivers. Fix that NHTSA!  I'll take my chances with my 04 Grand Cherokee any day.
Jun 5, 2013 7:23PM
Government...Flawed??? Tell me it isn't so! Did Chrysler happen to contribute to the Tea Party?
Jun 6, 2013 11:05AM
Typical government IDIOTS . But then any car can burst into flames at any time when there is a rear end collision .. IMPORTS or DOMESTIC people...20 -40 people in 20 yrs ? That's nothing ! If you drive any car you can DIE any time . Its a small risk but still there ... Why don't we recall my lawn mower , it runs on gasoline too and it can burn up any time for any reason. DUH...Toyota is the most recalled car company in the World and yet people who are Chrysler or American bashers are going to rant about this ? LMFAO... Typical Americans land of the free? Home of the truly stupid.
Jun 6, 2013 8:12AM
Japanese car sales down? Ahh re so smart re manufactur bad publicity against are competitor. Sheep you make me sick. We need to cull half of this nation and do it quickly.

Jun 6, 2013 11:39AM
That's why I wouldn't buy any of their products!
Jun 7, 2013 1:48PM

Maybe the people following to close in the first place should shoulder the blame along with the people driving to fast complaining about the brakes. Been driving for 45 + years is cars that have had a lot worse problems than the cars on the market now. IT is not NASCAR out there on our highways people. Just try to maintain your safety zone around your car some days and watch the other IDIOTS fill it in trying in the worst way to get past you. Just remember this is not a farm boy talking couldt give a lot of you a little tap on the left rear fender and watch you figure that one out.

Jun 7, 2013 9:28AM
Maybe we should recall the drivers that caused the accidents.
Jun 5, 2013 9:28PM
There will always those that need something to finger point and try to get something started. You have Obama wanting to disarm American's; Heard giving weapons to the Mexican drug cartel, Drunks, womanizers and IRS cheats in congress and politics and alcohol; Alcohol related accidents thru the years have killed more than all the war related deaths. Nothing is perfect. There have been approximently 50 deaths in over twenty years because supposedly fuel tanks mounted in the rear of Jeeps. Jeeps are considered an off road vehicle. Vehicle accidents are normally human errors. Put your pointed finger where the sun don't shine or become a politician. One death a year because of a vehicle malfunction is one to many. But put the thousands of jeeps on the road and off road and the millions of miles they are driven and it would seem the odds are in the jeeps favor. long live the jeep!!!    
Jun 6, 2013 9:30AM
That's a voluntary recall they refused they can be made to recall but stalling lets mor of their rottencars burn up.
Jun 5, 2013 10:08PM

Just know coming to light after all these years where have all the safety experts and activists been?

Jun 6, 2013 9:39AM
I see from the comments the industry trolls are out in force trying to deflect the issue for their handlers. They apparently hired some of the RNC Obama haters as well.
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