The federal government alleges that the answers to both questions are yes; but in a rare, public pushback to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Chrysler Group contends that the vehicles—potentially 2.7 million of them in all—are safe, and not defective.
Usually, automakers pre-emptively issue recalls well before the government orders them, and it's become very rare in recent years for an automaker to provide this kind of resistance.
“The company does not agree with NHTSA’s conclusions and does not intend to recall the vehicles cited in the investigation,” said Chrysler in an official response to a NHTSA recall letter issued this week.
Feds connect at least 49 fire deaths, many more injuries
In the letter to Chrysler, the federal agency notes that there have been “numerous fire-related deaths and injuries, fires that did not result in deaths and fuel leaks in rear impacts.”
“As discussed more fully below, ODI believes that the MY 1993-2004 Grand Cherokee and MY 2002-2007 Liberty contain defects related to motor vehicle safety,” writes the federal agency. “Accordingly, ODI requests that Chrysler initiate a safety recall of these vehicles.”
The letter outlines the checkered safety history of vehicles with fuel tanks located aft of the rear axle (Ford's Pinto is one of the most often mentioned, and it is here). It also notes that with the original 'ZJ' Grand Cherokee, the fuel tank was moved back, to be in close proximity to the rear bumper.
At issue is that the Grand Cherokee's higher ride height also makes its rear-mounted tank more vulnerable in impacts—when it's rear-ended by a passenger car, for instance.