WASHINGTON -- Chrysler Group’s decision to limit an expansion of an earlier recall of vehicles with possibly defective passenger-side airbag inflators made by Takata has put drivers at risk, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s top official said Friday.
The accusation underscores simmering tensions between Chrysler and the nation’s auto safety regulator. It also marks the second time in the last few weeks that NHTSA has publicly called out Chrysler for what the agency views as shortcomings in Chrysler’s handling of vehicles that contain suspect Takata airbag inflators, which can explode in a crash.
Chrysler on Wednesday recalled 149,150 Dodge Ram pickups from the 2003 model year that were sold or registered in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, plus American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan and the Virgin Islands.
The move expanded an earlier recall that included the Ram pickups, plus 2004-08 Dodge Durangos, 2007-08 Chrysler Aspens, 2005-08 Chrysler 300s and 2005-08 Dodge Dakota pickups, but was limited to Florida, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands, areas believed to pose the greatest risk because of their high humidity. The initial recall covered about 371,000 vehicles.
The additional Rams recalled last week covered only one of the two types of Takata passenger-side inflators suspected of containing a defect, NHTSA says, and excluded the other vehicles in the initial regional recall. The decision was met with resistance from the agency just hours after Chrysler announced it Wednesday.
In a statement Friday, NHTSA Deputy Chief David Friedman said, “Chrysler still refuses to expand the regional recall to all affected cars and trucks, which is putting Americans at risk and defies common sense. We will determine next steps and take appropriate action to ensure that Chrysler shares our sense of urgency in the interest of public safety.”
Several automakers have faced pressure from NHTSA to include additional states along the Gulf of Mexico in recalls of vehicles equipped with possibly defective passenger-side made by Takata that began earlier this summer, most of which were limited to Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Toyota, Nissan, Ford, Honda, Subaru, Mazda have expanded those campaigns to the broader region, but Chrysler’s decision to limit its expansion has put it in NHTSA’s crosshairs, with the agency saying Wednesday that Chrysler’s expansion was insufficient.
That statement came after a Nov. 25 letter from Friedman to Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne in which the agency’s deputy chief said he was “extremely concerned” about the limited region and slow pace of Chrysler’s recall. The letter went on to say that Chrysler has “consistently maintained its position at the rear of the pack” among the automakers that have worked with NHTSA since this summer to deal with the mounting Takata airbag recall crisis.
Chrysler’s dustup with NHTSA over Takata airbags isn’t the first time the two have found themselves at odds.
A high-profile clash over Jeeps with fuel tanks that could catch fire following a rear-end collision was settled last year in a compromise in which Chrysler agreed to install protective trailer hitches on about 1.5 million Jeep SUVs. NHTSA had initially asked Chrysler to recall even more vehicles but Chrysler refused. Instead of heading to court, the two agreed on the compromise in June 2013.
A slow rollout of the trailer-hitch remedy prompted
In November, Friedman blasted Chrysler for what he saw as a slow rollout of the trailer high remedy. He said Chrysler needed to “get their act in gear” on the recalls. Chrysler has since boosted public outreach about the recalls and taken steps to speed the flow of trailer hitches to dealers.