Tensions between the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and FCA are escalating, with the NHTSA now ordering Fiat Chrysler executives into the hot seat at a special July hearing. According to a NHTSA press release issued Monday, the agency will hold the public hearing on July 2 to look into how the automaker’s handled 20 recalls dating back to 2013.
The Department of Transportation says the hearing will look into whether FCA came up with adequate fixes for defects, plus review the adequacy of the recall notices in the campaigns that included more than 10 million vehicles. If the company is found to be in “violation of requirements under U.S. auto safety laws”, it could face up to $700 million in fines and be required to buy back or replace vehicles.
“Any auto defect that compromises the safety of our driving public is unacceptable,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Auto manufacturers are obligated to effectively remedy safety defects when they are discovered, and if they fail in that responsibility, we are obligated to act.”
It’s the latest chapter in ongoing tensions between the government agency and the automaker. One of the biggest points of contention is a high-profile clash over Jeep fuel tank fires. In November, NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman sent Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne a strongly-worded letter saying the automaker needed to “get their act in gear” and speed up the pace of trailer hitch installations. But any improvement “hasn’t happened,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said Monday.
Another case they’ll be delving into is the Takata air bag recall. The NHTSA says it’s found problems with the way Fiat Chrysler handled the recall of 2.9 million vehicles involved in that action.
Overall, Rosekind says the agency has broad concerns about an apparent pattern of problems related to how FCA handles recalls. They’re concerned about the timeliness of FCA’s recall notifications, remedies that don’t fix the defects and low recall completion rates, Rosekind said.
“It is not enough to identify defects. Manufacturers have to fix them,” Rosekind said. “Significant questions have been raised as to whether this company is meeting its obligations to protect the drivers from safety defects, and today we are launching a process to ensure that those obligations are met.”
In a statement, Fiat Chrysler’s U.S division says “The average completion rate for FCA US LLC recalls exceeds the industry average and all FCA US campaigns are conducted in consultation with NHTSA. The company will cooperate fully.”
Photo Credit: FCA