DETROIT (AP) — Chrysler can fix recalled Jeep SUVs far faster than U.S. safety regulators have predicted, the automaker told the government Wednesday.
The development could end a spat between the automaker and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has accused Chrysler of moving too slowly to repair about 2.7 million SUVs in a recall announced more than a year ago.
The older Jeep Grand Cherokees and Libertys have gas tanks behind the rear axles that can rupture in rear collisions, leak fuel and cause fires. The remedy is to install a trailer hitch to protect the tanks in low-speed collisions.
Although NHTSA has pushed for the recall, Chrysler has maintained the vehicles aren't defective and says it agreed to the trailer hitches because the matter "has raised public concern."
In a tersely worded letter to Chrysler earlier this month, the safety agency demanded that Chrysler answer questions about why the recall is taking so long. The agency said production of the trailer hitches didn't start until May of this year, and the pace is so slow that it will take Chrysler 4.7 years to get enough hitches if all owners respond to the recall. If only half respond, it will take Chrysler two years to get the parts, the letter said.
"The agency has no intention of allowing Chrysler, or any other manufacturer, to delay recall completion to the detriment of safety," the letter said.
NHTSA ordered Chrysler to answer the questions by Wednesday, and the automaker released its response Wednesday night.
It says that the trailer hitch supplier now has additional production capacity and can make enough hitches for the recall by March 21 of next year. The response also says NHTSA over-estimated the number of hitches needed to fix the problem, failing to account for vehicles that already have hitches and for SUVs that are no longer in use.
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