The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said last month it was ordering Fiat Chrysler to attend a July 2 hearing to explain its handling of auto safety recalls in an unprecedented public hearing. It gave the company until 5 p.m. Monday to respond to questions.
Since the demand for information, Fiat Chrysler has taken a more conciliatory tone with NHTSA.
“FCA US LLC has responded to NHTSA’s special order. We take seriously the safety and satisfaction of our customers and remain committed to continuously improving our products. FCA US strives in all cases to complete full investigations, develop robust remedies and execute recalls in a timely manner, as evidenced by our campaign completion rates,” the company said in a statement. “However, we continue to be open to additional measures that would further improve our performance.”
The 12-page order demanded all reports of fires, crashes and deaths; repair bulletins sent to dealers; and all lawsuits related to recalls.
Fiat Chrysler also had to provide a sworn statement under oath from a senior official attesting that a search for all documents had been made. It had to describe in detail what it has done to get as many recall repairs completed as possible. The company declined to make the document public, saying it was up to NHTSA.
The highly unusual action came after NHTSA has raised sweeping concerns about Fiat Chrysler’s conduct in auto safety issues, saying it has failed to recall enough vehicles, send notices to owners fast enough or ensure that dealers repair enough vehicles.
Last month, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said the firm wanted to work more closely with NHTSA.
The public hearing, at which the government and Fiat Chrysler can call witnesses, is the first for the auto safety agency since 2012, when it demanded that a small manufacturer of three-wheel vehicles fix its products. And it is the first ever to focus on a series of recalls by one automaker. Marchionne will not testify, he said last month.
After the hearing, NHTSA could order actions to speed fixes or force the automaker to buy back vehicles believed to be unsafe. It also could hand down tens of millions of dollars in fines. But Fiat Chrysler could appeal, and the agency would have to go to federal court to compel it to take action.
Fiat Chrysler could face harsh scrutiny and painful testimony. NHTSA is likely to call investigators to testify about problems in the 20 recall campaigns. Members of the public are likely to testify and could bring graphic photos of loved ones killed in crashes; they also will be able to submit written testimony.
It marks the latest battle between NHTSA and Fiat Chrysler over the last two years. Conflicts date to the government’s demand for the recall of 2.7 million Jeeps linked to more than 50 deaths due to gas tank fires that have occurred when SUVs are hit from behind. In recent months, the agency has questioned a growing number of Fiat Chrysler actions.