The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's decision to take an expansive view of safety recalls makes this a critical juncture for an industry grappling with increasing complexity, innovation and safety standards.
In a recent interview, David Strickland, the head of NHTSA, said automakers must stay "within the zone of reasonable risk" to avoid recalls.
That means not only adhering to federal safety standards at the time vehicles are built but also keeping up with the state of the art in design and technology among competitors.
Safety should always be the primary concern when it comes to agency decisions. But automakers and suppliers will need to work more closely with NHTSA to help determine what is justifiable for a recall.
NHTSA's truce with Chrysler Group over the safety of aged Jeeps is an example of the kind of communication and partnership that must exist in relations between the agency and the industry.
This is a rapidly innovating auto industry. And the NHTSA standard is fluid. That's one reason for the sharp rise in vehicle recalls in recent years.
NHTSA's request to Chrysler for a recall was unusual in that it dealt with a fundamental design issue rather than a defective part or a failure to meet a safety standard.
Clearly NHTSA is showing that it has grounds to order a recall of vehicles that complied with prevailing safety standards at the time they were built. In settling the dispute, NHTSA had an open and transparent conversation with Chrysler about the data on the Jeeps.
That's a standard that must be met in the future. If the agency is going to continue to be aggressive in its analysis and enforcement, all parties must be involved in the discussion.