Chrysler tells supplier to boost hitch output

Increase follows NHTSA inquiry about slow pace of Jeep recall

The 1998 Grand Cherokee is among the Jeeps to receive trailer hitch assemblies.

Chrysler Group ordered a supplier of trailer hitches to boost production dramatically a day after the company was accused by federal safety regulators of dragging its feet on the recall of older Jeeps.

At the new build rate -- and using what it says is a more accurate estimate of vehicles to be repaired -- Chrysler said it will have sufficient hitch assemblies to fix all the recalled SUVs by March 2015.

The revelations were included in a nine-page response from Chrysler to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Wednesday.

On Aug. 1, the automaker plans to begin recalling 1993-98 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2002-07 Jeep Libertys to install trailer hitch assemblies on those that don't already have them. The assemblies mitigate the risk of fuel tank ruptures and fires in low-energy rear-impact collisions.

On July 2, NHTSA gave the automaker two weeks to answer why it took almost a year for a supplier to begin making trailer hitch assemblies for up to 2.5 million of the recalled models.

On July 3, Chrysler ordered its supplier to boost production, according to Chrysler's July 16 response to NHTSA.

Chrysler agreed to recall the older-model SUVs in June 2013 as part of a settlement with NHTSA over the agency's request for a much wider recall. That settlement said Chrysler would install the trailer hitch assemblies on those SUVs that didn't already have factory-authorized hitch assemblies.

NHTSA sent its letter this month after learning that Chrysler's supplier didn't begin manufacturing the assemblies until May 14. At the rate of production Chrysler had reported initially, NHTSA said it would take almost five years to produce enough parts to conduct the recall.

In its response filed wednesday, however, Chrysler said it had notified its supplier, Northern Stamping Inc., in suburban Cleveland, on July 3 to boost production from its initial rate of 2,205 assemblies a day to 3,511 a day, a 59 percent increase.

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at -- Follow Larry P. on Twitter: @LarryVellequett

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