(Adds comments by safety experts, adds consumer complaints on
By Bernie Woodall and Marilyn W. Thompson
DETROIT/WASHINGTON, June 18 U.S. safety
regulators are investigating about 1.2 million Chrysler vehicles
for potential ignition-switch problems, expanding a probe beyond
General Motors Co to another Detroit automaker.
Chrysler is the subject of two investigations involving
possible nondeployment of air bags because of potentially
defective switches that can be turned off in older Jeep, Dodge
and Chrysler models, according to the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration. No deaths or injuries have been reported,
NHTSA, which administers safety recalls, continues to
investigate similar issues at GM, which this year has recalled
more than 20 million vehicles worldwide, including 6.5 million
for switch-related issues that could disable air bags in
The new Chrysler investigations suggest that issues with
faulty ignition switches that could cause air bags to fail may
be more widespread than once believed and eventually could touch
other vehicle manufacturers besides GM and Chrysler.
The safety agency on Wednesday said the Chrysler probes
resulted from NHTSA's recent "communication with automotive
manufacturers and suppliers regarding airbag design and
performance related to the position of the vehicle ignition
It added: "As part of NHTSA's broader efforts to evaluate
this issue, the agency examined all major manufacturers' airbag
deployment strategies as they relate to switch position."
NHTSA's acting administrator, David Friedman, earlier this
year told lawmakers that, prior to GM's recall of the Chevrolet
Cobalt and Saturn Ion, the agency did not fully understand the
link between the cars' ignition switch and the ability of the
air bags to deploy in a crash.
NHTSA said it had received complaints of engine stalling in
the Chrysler models, but was not aware of any incidents where
the air bags did not deploy.
Chrysler, a unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, said
it was "awaiting additional information" from NHTSA and would
cooperate fully with the investigations.
German automaker Daimler AG, Chrysler's previous
owner, said on Wednesday it was not affected by the NHTSA
investigations of Chrysler switches.
Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Washington-based
watchdog Center for Auto Safety, said: "All manufacturers who
have vehicles that may cut off while on the road face potential
recalls." He said no automaker is immune, in large part because
of the emphasis on the stalling issue brought on by the GM
Consultant Sean Kane, president of Safety Research &
Strategies, said he is disturbed that NHTSA is reacting to the
"defect du jour" of ignition switches rather than taking a
"systematic and scientific approach" to all safety issues.
One of the NHTSA investigations of Chrysler, involving about
525,000 Jeep SUVs made between 2005 and 2007, focuses on
complaints about switches that can be bumped by a driver's knee
to the "off" or accessory position, turning off the engine and
potentially disabling air bags in a frontal crash.
GM cited similar issues in several of its switch-related
recalls, including 2.6 million Cobalts, Ions and other cars
linked to at least 13 deaths.
NHTSA also is investigating about 700,000 Chrysler Town &
Country and Dodge Grand Caravan minivans and Dodge Journey
crossovers from model years 2008-2010 for complaints about
switches that can be turned off when driving on rough roads,
which could prevent air bags from deploying in a crash.
In March 2011, Chrysler recalled 2010 Grand Caravan, Town &
Country and Journey models for "inadvertent ignition key
NHTSA said it opened the latest recall query "to assess the
scope and effectiveness" of the previous recall, and determine
whether the recall should be extended to 2008-2009 models.
One of the earliest complaints about Chrysler engine
stalling was received by NHTSA in November 2004, from the driver
of a 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee: "Driver's knee would hit the
ignition switch while driving. This caused the vehicle to shut
The driver of a 2006 Grand Cherokee complained in May 2006
about the engine stalling after tapping the key while going
25-30 miles per hour, then crashing into a tree: "The dealership
and the manufacturer were alerted and determined there was
nothing wrong with the vehicle."
In a complaint filed in March 2014 with NHTSA, the driver of
a 2006 Chrysler Town & Country wrote: "Ignition switch shuts off
while driving and engine stops running. Possible from bumps in
road or bumping key ring with driver's knee. Has happened more
than three times."
GM on Monday recalled 3.4 million older midsize and fullsize
sedans, including the Chevrolet Impala and the Cadillac DeVille,
saying the switches on those cars could be bumped out of the run
position by a combination of heavy key chains and rough roads.
In addition, GM last Friday recalled 511,528 Chevrolet
Camaros from 2010-2014 because a driver's knee could bump the
key fob out of the run position and turn off the engine.
GM's CEO, Mary Barra, returned before a U.S. House Energy
and Commerce subcommittee on Wednesday to face harsh questions
about why the No. 1 U.S. automaker waited more than a decade to
recall millions of vehicles with the defect linked to at least
13 deaths. Barra, who became CEO only in January but is a GM
veteran of more than 30 years, has said she did not become aware
of the problem until December 2013.
(Additional reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit and Edward
Taylor in Frankfurt; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Matthew