Takata airbag inflators have killed nine people in the United States while at least 19 have burned to death in Jeep SUVs since June 2013, when FCA US (Chrysler) was first asked to recall Jeep models that have the gas tank mounted behind the rear axle. At that time, the Jeep fire death toll stood at 270.
Something about this doesn't make sense, according to Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the non-profit Center for Auto Safety.
"The most lethal vehicle safety defect in America today is not the Takata airbag inflator. It’s the fuel tank behind the rear axle in the 1993-98 Jeep Grand Cherokee, 1993-01 Cherokee and 2002-07 Liberty," Ditlow said.
"Will never do right"
"This is the recall that Chrysler never wanted to do and will never do right. As far as Fiat-Chrysler is concerned Jeeps can continue to crash and burn until they are all off the road," Ditlow said in a letter to Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head Mark Rosekind.
"The Center for Auto Safety calls on you ... to reopen the Jeep fuel tank investigation and obtain a remedy that saves lives versus the fire deaths that will continue to occur if Fiat-Chrysler is left alone," Ditlow said.
In his letter, Ditlow highlighted three recent Jeep deaths -- 17-year-old Skyler Anderson and 24-year-olds Chantae and Danny Reed Jr.
Skyler’s father Todd testified before the NHTSA in the Chrysler recall hearings that he would never have let his son drive the Jeep if he had known about the recall, but he didn’t get a notice until more than a year after Chrysler agreed to a limited recall.
The Reeds, Ditlow said, are "double defect" deaths. Both survived the crash of their Jeep, but Danny Reed’s seat back collapsed, trapping him. His wife tried to free him from the seat but burned to death with her husband in the effort.
FCA said Jeeps are safe
FCA, formerly Chrysler, has insisted that the Jeeps have a safety record comparable to similar vehicles. The company initially refused the NHTSA's request that it recall the SUVs but finally negotiated a secret deal with ex-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, now an industry lobbyist.
The LaHood deal calls for installing a trailer hitch on the recalled models, in the hope that the hitch will keep the gas tank from being penetrated in a rear-end crash and exploding into flames.
Even that effort has been seen as lagging, as consumers complain that dealers say they don't have the necessary parts and critics, including a former Chrysler engineer, say the supposed remedy has never been scientifically shown to be valid.