Chrysler caves, recalls 2.7 million Jeeps

The government cut the number of Jeeps it wants recalled and in turn, Chrysler said it’ll agree to the recall.

The automaker says it’ll recall as many as 1.56 million 1993-1998 Jeep grand Cherokee and 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty SUVs.

On June 6, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requested a recall of 2.7 million, including 1999-2004 Grand Cherokees. Chrysler said, adamantly, “no” to NHTSA then.

But after extensive discussions and an almost 11th-hour agreement, the car company said it will recall the smaller number of Jeeps. The recall excludes 1999-2004 Grand Cherokess, which are a different design than the earlier models. NHTSA originally had wanted those included in the recall.

NHTSA says the Jeeps are involved in deadly fires after rear crashes too often. Chrysler had been insisting that was untrue.

ABOUT-FACE: Jeep had been expected to refuse recall request

As part of the agreement with NHTSA, Chrysler doesn’t have to call the Jeeps defective. That will help Chrysler defend itself in any lawsuits over fire deaths in those Jeeps.

And Chrysler only has to say the modifications it might make to some Jeeps are effective in minor bumps — “low-speed impacts,” as the car company’s statement puts it.

The most gruesome deaths have been in fires following rear-end crashes by vehicles going highway speed into Jeeps that were stopped or going slowing. Chrysler isn’t being required to say those won’t happen again.

Chrysler says it will have dealers conduct “visual inspection of the vehicle” and “will, if necessary, provide an upgrade to the rear structure of the vehicle to better manage crash forces in low-speed impacts.”

It comes down to trailer hitches.

Jeeps with hitches that weren’t put on at the factory or aren’t from Chrysler’s parts unit, Mopar, will get new Mopar hitches if the ones on those Jeeps are damaged or have sharp edges. If the non-Chrysler aftermarket hitches are in good shape, though, they won’t be replaced, Chrysler says.

NHTSA said it is “pleased that Chrysler has agreed to take action to protect its customers and the driving public.”

But NHTSA also said the matter’s not necessarily over: “We will continue our investigation into this issue, pending the agency’s review of the documents provided by Chrysler in its recall action.”

That’s probably routine, though, rather than a veiled threat. The agency normally looks over and gives final approval to an automaker’s recall documents, even after the recall’s begun.

Chrysler’s step should avoid prolonged bad publicity that would have resulted from an ongoing dispute with NHTSA.

The automaker notes that “this matter has raised concerns for its customers” even though, Chrysler continues to assert, the Jeeps are among the safest vehicles of their type at the time they were sold.