2007 Jeep Liberty LimitedEnlarge Photo
A lot has happened in the past year. GM recalled millions of automobiles. Americans became interested in soccer (briefly). And grandmothers from coast to coast learned about the New Orleans bounce music phenomenon known as twerking.
But you know what hasn't happened? The repairing of several million Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty vehicles that were recalled in June of 2013 (much to Chrysler's chagrin).
We marked the one-year anniversary of that recall with an update on the situation, noting Chrysler's plans to begin repairing vehicles in August. Now, according to Auto News, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is wondering why it's taken 14 months to begin inspecting vehicles and installing trailer hitches on those that need them.
A QUICK RECAP
The 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee and the 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty were recalled because NHTSA had concerns about their gas tanks. Those tanks are located behind the rear axle, which makes them more susceptible to damage during rear-end collisions. If the damage is severe enough, gas can leak from the tank, creating a fire hazard. To date, NHTSA has attributed at least 49 deaths and many, many injuries to such fires.
Chrysler said that, even though leakage from gas tanks caused those fires, the design of the Grand Cherokee and the Liberty didn't constitute a design flaw. Insisting that such fires were very rare, Chrysler initially refused NHTSA's request to recall the 2.7 million Jeep vehicles.
That didn't sit well with NHTSA -- or consumers, for that matter. Within weeks, public opinion of Chrysler and Jeep tumbled, and right on cue, Chrysler agreed to the recall.
But that wasn't the end of the story. Short of offering consumers completely new vehicles -- which obviously wasn't an option for Chrysler -- there was no way to "fix" the placement of the gas tank on the Grand Cherokee and the Liberty. Eventually, Chrysler landed on a solution that involved putting trailer hitches on vehicles, which can shield the gas tank during low- and mid-speed collisions.
It was an unusual suggestion, but arguably the only viable one. In January of this year, NHTSA approved it.
Now, NHTSA has expressed concerns about the length of time that it's taken Chrysler to begin these repairs. The agency is also worried about the speed at which repair parts are being manufactured.
As for the former, NHTSA blames Chrysler for not picking a supplier for the trailer hitches until December 2013 and for not submitting an order to the supplier until late January 2014.
As for the latter, NHTSA points out that, given the supplier's current rate of production, it'll take the company more than two years to manufacture enough hitches to fix all the Liberty models on the recall list, and more than four years to repair every Jeep Grand Cherokee.
In response, Chrysler has acknowledged that production of the hitches is a challenge. The automaker has enlisted multiple suppliers, who are working six days a week to create enough parts for the fix.
From where we sit, both NHTSA and Chrysler bear some responsibility for the delay.
Obviously, Chrysler wasn't going to submit an order for hitches until NHTSA reviewed and approved the proposed repair. It doesn't appear that anyone at NHTSA purposely held up that review, but the agency's bureaucratic process certainly didn't help to expedite matters, either.
Chrysler, however, should also understand that there are a couple of million Jeep owners in America who are eager to have their vehicle's upgraded. Sure, those motorists could run out an buy a trailer hitch themselves, but (a) most don't feel they should pay for something that's Chrysler's fault, and (b) there's no guarantee that the hitch a consumer might buy would meed the safety standards Chrysler has established. (It appears that some aftermarket hitches will work just fine, while others won't.)
Chrysler's initial reluctance to take on the recall doesn't paint it in a particularly sympathetic light. It would be easy for some consumers to see the delay as an example of Chrysler taking its good sweet time to do something it never wanted to do in the first place.
However, there's no evidence that that's the case. Ultimately, this may come down to an issue of scope, and Chrysler is right to point out that its need for parts far exceeds what it might normally require. Let's just hope Chrysler's suppliers stay on track for August repairs.