Final Inspection

Chrysler Says ‘Wait and See’ on Dispute With NHTSA

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The auto maker takes a stoic approach to addressing potential controversy, rather than explaining at length.

Top Chrysler executives are keeping it short and simple addressing a safety agency’s request for recalls in older Jeep models.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Admin., wants the auto maker to call back 2.7 million Jeep Grand Cherokee and Liberty models for faulty fuel lines. Without mincing words, the collisions that can cause the systems to catch fire have drawn a “modern-day Pinto” comparison.

Ouch! No matter what generation car buyer you are, you know about the Ford Pinto controversy.

And it’s words like “controversy” that have been thrown around in the press in recent days as Chrysler stands firm. Many are wondering why the auto maker won’t comply with NHTSA’s request, lest they avoid a Pinto repeat or endure Toyota’s sticky floor-mat scenario.

Chrysler executives prefer a “wait-and-see” approach. Those were the words of top spokesman Gualberto Raineri to reporters this week at a roundtable with Ram President and CEO Reid Bigland.

Bigland sat down with automotive reporters, myself included, at Chrysler headquarters to discuss his new role at Ram and give an update on forthcoming models.

But Bigland has the dual role of handling U.S. and Canada sales for the auto maker, prompting some journalists to ask about potential sales dips in the wake of the NHTSA dispute.

“I’m always worried about sales,” he tells us, being cautious yet confident in his tone, referring reporters back to an analysis released by Chrysler stating that the type of collisions NHTSA believes are fatal are rare.

During the otherwise casual luncheon, reporters keep prodding Bigland about NHTSA. Raineri, who has been tasked with butting into large-scale conversations revolving around Chrysler (see: rumors of Jeep moving to China and sparring with Tesla over government loan payments), interrupts with a firm “wait and see.”

It’s clear Chrysler does not want to dwell on the NHTSA dispute and instead re-focus on critical product launches. It’s unfortunate that while under pressure to recall millions of Jeeps, the auto maker’s biggest launch this year is a Jeep Cherokee.

When speaking to thousands of supplier representatives this week, CEO Sergio Marchionne also keeps things brief about NHTSA. “I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about this,” is his preface.

The glut of recent press coverage about the controversy skews heavily in favor of NHTSA. Not to defend the auto maker this early in the game, but what if Chrysler turns out to be right?

We’ll just have to wait and see.

afoley@wardsauto.com

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

on Mar 10, 2014

They must comply to the NHTSA's auto guidelines in order to have a safe automobiles. They (NHTSA) have get other huge brands such as FORD and TOYOTA to comply, so as with Chrysler.

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