The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has also refused to launch an investigation into claims that 4.7 million of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US LLC’s (FCA US) vehicles carry defects that could cause unintended acceleration, air bag failure or engine stalls. The agency said an analysis of data and evidence didn’t support the allegations. The claims, included in an August 2014 letter to NHTSA from the Center for Auto Safety, focused on the automaker’s “totally integrated power module,” a computer that controls a range of systems installed in trucks, SUVs and vans beginning with the 2007 model year. NHTSA, in announcing its conclusion relating to the totally integrated power module (TIPM) problem, said in the report:
No valid evidence was presented in support of claims related to airbag non-deployment, unintended acceleration or fire resulting from TIPM faults and these claims were found to be wholly without merit based on review of the field data and design of the relevant systems and components.
NHTSA closed the probe just days before it announced a record $105 million enforcement action against Fiat Chrysler for failing to complete 23 recalls covering more than 11 million vehicles. The Center for Auto Safety in an Aug. 21, 2014 letter told NHTSA it has received 70 complaints related to the Chrysler TIPM and that NHTSA has received “hundreds if not thousands” of complaints detailing vehicle stalling, air bag nondeployment and instrument panel failures related to problems with the modules. Chrysler owners are paying for their own TIPM replacements and waiting for weeks or months for the parts while remaining “at the mercy of a defect which many have likened to the vehicle being possessed and uncontrollable,” the CAS petition said.
In coming to its conclusion about the alleged TIPM defects, NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigation said it analyzed 296 complaints submitted by the group and consumers. However, the agency said Fiat Chrysler submitted a defect information report identifying a defect within some TIPMs that could cause a no-start or stall, potentially affecting more than 500,000 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Durangos manufactured from 2010 to 2013. The automaker issued a recall in February for nearly 500,000 vehicles with a TIPM issue that affected fuel-pump function. NHTSA concluded:
Except insofar as the petitioner’s contentions relate to the defect condition addressed by the Chrysler recalls, the factual bases of the petitioner’s contentions that any further investigation is necessary are unsupported.
I really hope that NHTSA has made a good decision in this matter. But our experience in the Toyota sudden acceleration litigation does give me some concern about decisions by NHTSA to not fully pursue defect claims in some cases. This decision involving the TIPM issue appeared to have enough information from valid sources for NHTSA to go forward. I would remind our readers that it took a jury trial to expose Toyota and for our lawyers to learn first hand of NHTSA’s short comings. NHTSA had failed its responsibilities during a very long period of cover-up by Toyota. Hopefully, NHTSA got it right this time, but we will eventually find out if they did.
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