The Motor Trend magazine named Sergio Marchionne, the recently-deceased former CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automotive (“FCA”), their 2019 Person of the Year–even though he fought tooth and nail against protecting customer lives.
In a recent article, Forbes magazine (which is normally business-friendly) noted the irony.
Jeep Fires and Explosions
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) issued a report in 2013, after a years long investigation, stating that multiple Jeep vehicle models (including the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Cherokee, and Jeep Liberty) were at a high-risk of post-collision fires. Jeep is owned by FCA. The primary reason was that gas tanks for Jeep models from 1993-2007 had rear-mounted gas tanks. Marchionne disputed that ruling at every chance he could. “[They] are absolutely safe,” he told the public on multiple occasions.
Until he suddenly changed his mind.
In June 2013, Marchionne arranged a private, unrecorded meeting with Ray LaHood, then head of the US Department of Transportation, and David Strickland, head of NHTSA at the time. LaHood and Strickland were political appointments who had no experience in vehicle design or engineering. No other staff was present, a request by Marchionne directly.
Deal Struck at Secret Meeting regarding Exploding Jeeps
In that private, undisclosed meeting, Marchionne offered a deal: trailer hitches. He argued trailer hitches would fix the problem and protect the rear gas tanks from puncture. Chrysler’s own lead engineer even called that bunk. François J. Castaing, former VP of Engineering for Chrysler and also heavily involved in creating the Jeep models that have the rear gas tanks, said in a sworn statement:
“The tow package does not protect the tank.”
Even the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers couldn’t believe Marchionne’s claim.
The Center for Auto Safety refuted Marchionee’s claim and released a statement detailing just why a trailer hitch package doesn’t fix the problem. FCA didn’t even promise NHTSA or its customers that this “solution” was actually one. FCA told NHTSA that the trailer hitch “incrementally improve[s] the performance of certain… vehicles in certain… low-speed impacts.”
NHTSA allowed the trailer hitch ‘recall’ to go forward, and FCA thanked them generously. Curiously, Strickland now works at a law firm that lobbies the government on behalf of FCA. Granted, that doesn’t make him any different than other appointees at NHTSA.
Full article link here. This ‘recall’ relates to the federal investigation into 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees, 1993-2001 Jeep Cherokees, and 2002-2007 Jeep Liberties.