The Center for Auto Safety has asked top officials at the Chrysler Group and its parent company, Fiat, to recall about five million vehicles. The nonprofit consumer advocacy group said that “children are dying in Jeeps in rear-impact fires.” In a letter to John Elkann on Wednesday, Fiat’s chairman, the center cited the deaths of three children since 2006 in fires that occurred when the Jeeps in which they were riding were struck from the rear. The Center for Auto Safety has also been urging a recall of 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees since 2009, saying the vehicles have two problems:
• The first is a gas tank behind the rear axle and somewhat below the bumper, in an area that safety engineers call a crush zone. Chrysler moved the tank in front of the rear axle when it redesigned the vehicle for the 2005 model year, but a company spokesman said the move was not related to concern about fires.
• The second problem is a fuel filler pipe positioned so that it can rip away from the tank in a rear impact, allowing gasoline to escape from the tank.
Chrysler has repeatedly denied that the Grand Cherokee posed a fire risk, noting that the vehicles met federal safety standards. The automaker issued a statement last month reconfirming its own analysis of the Grand Cherokee models called into question by the center, saying the SUV’s “are neither defective, nor do their fuel systems pose an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety in rear impact collisions.” But, almost a year ago, the NHTSA said its investigation of the center’s allegations were reason enough for the agency to upgrade its investigation to an engineering analysis.
NHTSA, in what appeared to be a direct rebuttal of Chrysler’s continuing claims, said its study found that “rear-impact-related tank failures and vehicle fires are more prevalent in the J.G.C. (Jeep Grand Cherokee) than in non-Jeep peer vehicles.” The safety agency said it was expanding the investigation to include 1993-2001 Jeep Cherokees, as well as 2002-7 Jeep Libertys. In 2011 the center released the results of crash tests it commissioned, showing that other SUV’s of the same vintage fared far better in rear-impact crashes than did the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The center says it has reports of 157 deaths in which Grand Cherokee crashes resulted in a fire. That tally includes rear impacts as well as rollovers in which the filler hose might have ripped loose, Clarence Ditlow, the center’s executive director, said in an interview. The safety agency listed 15 fire deaths, but Mr. Ditlow said it was strictly looking at rear-impact crashes.
One of the child deaths mentioned in the center’s letter was that of Cassidy Jarmon, a 4-year-old who was riding in her family’s 1993 Grand Cherokee in February 2006 in Cleburne, Texas. Her mother was stopped on a two-lane highway, trying to make a left turn, when her Jeep was hit from behind by a 2001 Chevrolet Lumina. Cassidy, who was in a child restraint, survived the impact but couldn’t be easily freed from the seat because the fire happened so quickly. She died two days later from burns and smoke inhalation. The police investigation concluded that the gas tank had been punctured by the Jeep’s trailer hitch. The deaths of the two other children occurred in 2011 and 2012. NHSA’s investigation is still under way.
Source: New York Times
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