UNDATED (USAToday.com) - Chrysler Group did an about-face Tuesday and said it will recall 2.7 million Jeeps, as the government had requested.
Affected are the 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty SUVs.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says those are involved in deadly fires after rear crashes too often. Chrysler had been insisting that was untrue.
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Chrysler says it will have dealers conduct "visual inspection of the vehicle" and "will, if necessary, provide an upgrade to the rear structure of the vehicle to better manage crash forces in low-speed impacts."
Chrysler is taking the step to avoid prolonged bad publicity that would result in an ongoing dispute with NHTSA.
The automaker notes that "this matter has raised concerns for its customers" even though, Chrysler continues to assert, the Jeeps are among the safest vehicles among their peers.
NHTSA could have convened public hearings in which its staff unreeled the most damning information possible, accompanied by a parade of people who lost loved ones in Jeep fires, often accompanied by gruesome video and photos of the fatalities.
Chrysler could have, eventually, come out OK by refusing to recall.
• History shows automakers often win such showdowns with NHTSA and don't wind up recalling the vehicles.
•Nearly all the Grand Cherokees and many of the Liberties are beyond the 10-year limit for recalls. Chrysler could have been stubborn and refused to pay for any modifications to those models even if there were a recall.
•Car shoppers apparently didn't care about Chrysler's stand. Online shopping sites said the traffic on their sites hadn't shown any evidence of boycotting. Shopping site Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com says, "Shopper interest has been unaffected" by Chrysler's stance. There has been no "depreciable drop in vehicle values" during the standoff, kbb.com says.
That's largely because the Jeeps involved are so old. The recall "does not involve current model-year SUVs or even SUVs from the current style," says AutoTrader editor Brian Moody. "The current Jeep vehicles are so fundamentally different that it may not matter as much to the average car shopper."
Chrysler has data showing the death rate in the Jeeps from fires in rear-crash accidents is insignificantly higher than in other SUVs of the period. And it has charted some two dozen vehicles with higher death rates that haven't been recalled.
Those would be strong arguments in a data battle with NHTSA and in a court case.
But the Center for Auto Safety says it was working to show that the deaths in those other vehicles were caused by the crash itself, not by a fire that followed.
Clarence Ditlow, head of the center, an advocacy group, said it had preliminary data Monday night showing it was on the right track. Ditlow said he expected to have complete data today showing that few or none of the vehicles Chrysler said were worse than the Jeeps were, in fact, worse.
Ditlow suggested that Chrysler add a skid plate to the 90% of the Jeeps that didn't have it as a factory option. Skid plates are sold as protection against rocks and downed trees in off-road driving.
He also said Chrysler could have installed longer fuel-filler hoses so they wouldn't pull off the tank and cause a leak as easily in a rear crash.