Jeep hitch output starts this week

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DETROIT -- Chrysler Group suppliers this week will begin manufacturing trailer hitch assemblies to protect fuel tanks of some older model Jeeps, nearly a year after the automaker agreed to fix the allegedly fire-prone SUVs.

The hitch assemblies for 1993-98 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2002-07 Jeep Libertys are expected to be at dealerships late this summer, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Dealers will install the assemblies for free on the SUVs under a settlement reached last year between Chrysler and NHTSA that covers an estimated 1.56 million Grand Cherokees and Libertys.

Chrysler took a $151 million charge in the second quarter last year to pay for the campaign.

The assemblies are mounted on three sides around gasoline tanks. They will help shield the tanks in low-energy crashes, Chrysler says.

The company says that service techs will need a new tool, which is being made by a supplier, for the installation. A Chrysler spokesman declined to identify the tool.

In early June 2013, NHTSA demanded that Chrysler recall 2.7 million Jeeps, which the agency said had an elevated incidence of fires from high-energy rear-end collisions. Chrysler disputed the finding, saying the SUVs were not defective and met the standards applicable at the time they were built.

Ultimately, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne negotiated a deal with NHTSA to end the agency's formal request for a recall.

Under the deal, dealerships will inspect the older Jeeps and install Mopar hitch assemblies on vehicles that lack them.

Chrysler said it will contact consumers to schedule inspections. It said delays were caused by having "to find and enlist multiple new supplier partners who required time to acquire the necessary tooling."

The automaker said its engineers had to "develop new installation protocols" to ensure that the hitch assemblies are installed correctly on the vehicles, "which will be in various stages of repair."

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com.


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