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Tesla Model S Recall Vs. Jeep Grand Cherokee & Liberty Recalls: A Study In Contrasts

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Tesla's Elon Musk and Chrysler/Fiat's Sergio Marchionne

Tesla's Elon Musk and Chrysler/Fiat's Sergio Marchionne

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Over the past few days, two very different automakers have rolled out two very different recalls, and they've done so in very different ways -- unexpected ways that could hint at each company's future. 

Exhibit A: yesterday, Tesla announced that it would recall 2013 Model S vehicles manufactured between May 8 and June 10 of this year. The company cited concerns that attachments holding the left-rear seat in place might've become compromised during the manufacturing process, which could cause the seat to detach during a collision. 

Exhibit B: the day before, Chrysler reversed course and said that it would, in fact, recall 1993-2004 Grand Cherokee and 2002-2007 Liberty models to address a potentially hazardous design flaw. Last week, the company insisted that the vehicles were completely safe and said that it intended to defy the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's request for a recall. The automaker gave no reason for its change of heart, though sagging public opinion polls may have played a role.  

What's interesting isn't the causes of the two recalls. Tesla's stems from an obvious manufacturing flaw, while Jeep's is the result of shifting attitudes toward the placement of fuel tanks.

No, what's interesting is the way that each company handled its respective recall.

Tesla says that it never received a complaint about the left-rear seat, nor has the company been contacted by NHTSA. Instead, the problem was uncovered during Tesla's own quality testing procedures. Apparently, the automaker wanted to get out in front of the issue before it became a real issue.

Chrysler, on the other hand, received numerous complaints about the position of the gas tank on the Grand Cherokee and Liberty. (It's located behind the rear axle, much like the doomed Ford Pinto.) In fact, NHTSA has attributed 51 deaths to the flaw, which can cause gas leaks and fires during rear-end collisions. And yet, in a press release issued last week, Chrysler sniffed, "The company does not agree with NHTSA’s conclusions and does not intend to recall the vehicles cited in the investigation".

Even in Tuesday's reversal, Chrysler remained defiant, saying that it wouldn't issue an official recall, but that it would "inspect" all vehicles and "upgrade" some of them.

CONTRASTING CEOS

Frankly, we would've thought this should be the other way around.

Tesla's Elon Musk is known as something of a hothead. He's rebellious, brash, and he's been known to hang up on journalists during interviews. From a distance, he seems like just the type to say, "Nope, there's nothing wrong with our vehicles. They're perfect as-is."

Chrysler's Sergio Marchionne, on the other hand, has proven himself cool and even-keeled. Since taking the helm of the merged Chrysler/Fiat, he's offered brutally frank assessments of the company. That makes his reluctance to admit problems with these Jeeps more than a little odd.

Of course, you could argue that the size of the two recalls make this a case of apples and oranges. Jeep has been asked to fix 2.7 million vehicles, while Tesla is dealing with just 1,300. But given the relative size of the companies, we'd say that the recalls are closer in scope than they appear on paper.

Bottom line: for all their headstrong flaws, Musk and his team clearly understand the lay of the land in the 21st century. Thanks to the internet -- and especially social media -- companies can no longer run from problems or try to hide them. They have to manage them head-on, just as he and his team have done. Marchionne and other legacy automakers could take a tip or two.

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Comments (6)
  1. First, there is a vast difference in the events surrounding these recalls. In Chrysler's recalls, there were no parts that were found to be defective. Their vehicles were made to the standards set forth by the NTSHA at the time they were manufactured. It wasn't until recnetly that the NTHSA changed their criteria. It is as if they said they changed their minds and oh by the way, we want you make changes on several million vehicles that were previously okay in our books and you need to pay the tens of millions of dollars to accomodate us.

    Telsa on the other hand found a flaw in the manufacturing process and will spend the few thousand dollars to correct their mistake.
     
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  2. Totally agree! In addition to numerous other motor vehicles built by Ford,GM and Chrysler over the years, we had the very well known Ford Crown Victoria (including Police Interceptor), Mercury Grand Marquis, and Lincoln Town Car with the same design. Why not go after them as well? In other words, where does one draw the line.
     
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  3. I think you have it wrong about Elon, he is quite the perfectionist and very protective of the reputation of Tesla. That is why all service bulletins and "recalls" for Teslas happen before anybody even reports an issue.
     
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  4. @Mark Lemons

    And how do you rationalize the estimated 51 deaths caused by this issue?
    NHTSA discovered a FATAL flaw that they had previously missed and wants its corrected. Chrysler's response was a petulant "Well, you said they were fine before" Hardly a case of NTHSA changing its mind on a whim, wouldn't you agree?

    Tesla's recalls involve fewer dollars, sure, but also fewer lives lost. Chrysler is a massive company that's been doing this for 100 years. They should be ashamed of themselves.
     
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  5. How do we rationalize the many pedestrians killed on sidewalks by cars, every year? I think we should put guard rails on every sidewalk.
     
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  6. Not sure how they are going to FIX the "problem" you cant move it, there isnt any place else to put it , under the back seat? Grand Cherokee's and Liberty's are not the only ones with tanks at the rear end , remember cars of old , pulling down the license plate to fill?
     
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