Consumer activist Ralph Nader has called on Fiat to recall 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees made by Chrysler because of what he calls their vulnerability to fiery rear-end crashes.
U.S. safety regulators have been conducting an investigation and considering a recall of 3 million Grand Cherokees.
Nader said today that the Grand Cherokee from these years “is a modern-day Pinto for soccer moms” because the fuel tank is behind the rear axle below the rear bumper.
“Now that Fiat has purchased Chrysler, it has the moral obligation to remedy the deadly fuel tank design in the Jeep Grand Cherokee before more innocent victims are burned today, not only in the United States, but also in Europe,” Nader said in a speech in Milan after receiving an award from Quattroruote auto magazine.
In addition, the 1993-98 Grand Cherokees are flawed because the filler hose goes through the frame rail and is pulled out of the fuel tank, he said.
Chrysler said today that the fuel tanks on the Grand Cherokees aren't defective and do not pose an unreasonable risk.
The automaker conducted a study that compared 21,000 rear impacts in the 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees with similar models from other companies found that fires are no more common in Grand Cherokees than in other vehicles, said Chrysler spokesman Michael Palese.
"Rear impacts resulting in a fire are extremely rare," Palese said. "Chrysler believes this investigation should be closed."
In August, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began an investigation after its preliminary review found that the fuel tank may have been linked to 22 crashes and 14 deaths.
NHTSA said at the time that its preliminary review did not find the Grand Cherokee has a disproportionate number of fire-related accidents compared with similar models of other automakers.
The Nader-founded Center for Auto Safety, whose research spurred the NHTSA probe, has come up with different findings.
It said the fuel tank has exploded into flames in 44 crashes and rollovers causing 64 deaths -- twice as many fire-related accidents and four times as many deaths identified by regulators.
When DaimlerChrysler owned the Jeep brand, it moved and shielded the fuel tank, starting with 2005 models.
Fiat acquired control of Chrysler in 2009 as part of a deal arranged by the Obama administration after Chrysler had filed for bankruptcy reorganization.