The FCA recall screwups

You know it’s bad when even the press releases announcing the settlement are screwy.

Chrysler has been doing a large number of proactive recalls, analyzing warranty data to the point where single events are investigated and problems are found, in some cases, before a single car has been sold. That’s pretty good. The company is, in some ways, taking safety more seriously than ever before.

On the darker side, dealers and customers alike have horror stories of waiting and waiting and waiting for parts that never came. Dealers talk of being told they can only order one part at a time, wait for it to be installed, then order a second — for a recall. Meanwhile the plants run on overtime using those same parts.

dealership-signs

In some cases, notifications were lax. In others, dealers just didn’t want to do the work, it seems. Across the spectrum, Chrysler has, for the last few years, been making the process of getting recalls done harder than it needs to be.

That’s why the government stepped in and slammed them with a big fine. That, and failing to live up to past settlements. I don’t know why anyone at the company thought it would be a good idea to shake hands and then assume everything was done.

In some cases, Chrysler got a bum steer – like with the Jeeps with the rear-mounted fuel tanks, standard practice at the time they were made, and hardly unique (nor more dangerous than other cars on the road). There was no “GM ignition switch” case, no “Toyota laughing at regulators” arrogance. Just, as the SVP in charge of safety and regulation said, “sloppiness.”

I am often called an apologist for Chrysler, but I know as well as anyone else that they deserved this. Did others deserve bigger fines than they got (Toyota, I’m looking at you)? Well, yes. Was it politically motivated? No, I don’t think so. This is a case of the NHTSA trying hard to get a company to understand that it had to change its ways, and the company putting its hands over its figurative ears and saying “NA NA NA I CAN’T HEAR YOU.”

So … the deal was announced, but there was much confusion, since it was said there were over half a million trucks subject to buybacks. Then Automotive News reported which trucks those were. Then Chrysler almost angrily issued a press release saying that the media had gotten it wrong, and providing the details they should have provided in the first place (including the key facts that buybacks are not on particularly favorable terms, which is not surprising, and that they only apply to vehicles that have not had the recall work done — around half of them! — and that customers can opt to just get the recall.)

It’s a pretty sad case of a company that just refused to pay attention and do things properly. It’s a totally avoidable $100-million-plus penalty that could have been almost completely avoided as early as a few months ago.