WASHINGTON - DaimlerChrysler's decision to replace defective 1999 Plymouth Prowlers rather than attempt repairs for current owners is an unusual response to a safety problem, but not unprecedented.
Such a remedy is 'very rare, for obvious reasons,' said Jonathan White, chief of recall analysis at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The base price of each 1999 Prowler was $40,000.
Of the more than 7,100 safety recalls by manufacturers since 1966, only a handful involved replacement or repurchase of vehicles, said White, after a quick search of NHTSA records.
Most recently, in 1995, General Motors replaced 16 new Chevrolet Cavaliers and Pontiac Sunfires because of welds missing from their B pillars, the records show.
Other defective vehicles for which replacement or repurchase was at least an option included:
43 1990 Excaliburs, which did not have the required safety restraints, such as motorized seat belts or airbags.
2,600 1991-93 General Motors trucks with faulty compressed natural gas tanks.
33,000 Nissan vans from 1987, 1988 and 1990 with a history of underhood fires.
170,000 Fiat cars from 1970-74 with susceptibility to severe body corrosion.
One memorable vehicle replacement program does not appear in NHTSA's recall records: Saturn Corp.'s 1991 decision to take back 1,836 of the first cars that the upstart carmaker produced.
The problem, improperly formulated coolant, was not a safety defect but one that could have wreaked havoc with engine durability. The company offered cars of equal or greater value in return.
'People were so amazed by it,' said Saturn spokeswoman Sue Holmgren. 'It was our first step in establishing us as a company that stands behind its products and does the right thing for our customers.'
DaimlerChrysler probably won't score similar public relations points with its Prowler replacement effort. It is killing the Plymouth brand and has no plans to produce the Prowler beyond 2001.
Still, Prowler fans appear largely unfazed, either by the recall or the pending demise of their favorite car.
Gregg Regula of St. Louis, who has a 1997 model and who started an Internet site for Prowler owners, said ending production will make the few that have been built even more valuable.
Said Regula: 'I wish they had stopped after '97.'