DETROIT -- I know government moves at its own pace, and sometimes that pace seems agonizingly slow.
It has now been more than four months since Chrysler Group reached its settlement with federal safety officials over a request to recall 2.7 million Jeep Grand Cherokees and Jeep Libertys.
In that time, none of the estimated 1.56 million 1993-98 Grand Cherokees and 2002-07 Libertys remaining on the roads have had a supplemental trailer hitch installed by Chrysler dealers.
Why? Well, it seems the settlement Chrysler reached with the political appointees running the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration remains under review by the agency's staff.
NHTSA had sent a demand to Chrysler in early June asking that the automaker recall the Jeeps, which the agency said were defective because they 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 manufactured.
Ultimately, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne negotiated a deal with former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and NHTSA head David Strickland to end NHTSA's formal request for a recall.
Under the deal, Chrysler dealerships would inspect the older Jeeps and install a Mopar hitch assembly to protect the fuel tank if the vehicles didn't already have one.
Case closed, if you only read the headlines. But the details were a little more complicated.
"Consumers impacted by the safety recall and customer satisfaction campaign should have their vehicles serviced promptly once they receive notification [emphasis mine] from Chrysler," NHTSA said in a statement to Automotive News. "In the meantime, the investigation remains open pending completion of the agency's review."
For its part, Chrysler says it hasn't sent out the notification letters calling in consumers with these older Jeeps."Preparations continue to implement the announced actions, though the affected vehicles are not defective," a spokesman for Chrysler wrote to Automotive News. "Customers will be advised when to schedule vehicle inspections with their dealers."
So four months later what do we know for sure?
- The deal Marchionne cut certainly got Jeep out of a very bad month of "Chrysler defies NHTSA" headlines in June.
- Chrysler set aside a relatively paltry $151 million to pay for the fixes, if and when they happen. And every day that they don't, the amount the automaker is likely to spend goes down, simply because of the age of the vehicles.
- NHTSA's great concern over the safety of occupants of these Jeeps doesn't seem to be great enough to either approve Chrysler's negotiated fix or shoot it down. Yes, the government was shut down for two weeks this month, and its actions have been limited by the budget-cutting sequester. But it's almost November, and the details of this were known in June.
No matter what happens in this case, consumers who count on regulators and automakers to ensure their vehicles are safe deserve better.