| DETROIT, July 17
DETROIT, July 17 Chrysler Group LLC told U.S.
safety regulators it could add trailer hitches to recalled Jeep
SUVs by March, much sooner than the several years estimated by
regulators who had urged the automaker to quicken its pace for
fixing the affected vehicles.
Chrysler's statement late Wednesday, in a filing with the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, comes two weeks
after the agency asked for an explanation on why it would take
Chrysler so long - until 2018 - to make Jeep SUVs with rear fuel
tanks safer by adding the trailer hitches.
In June 2013, NHTSA and Chrysler announced the recall of
1.56 million Jeep SUVs with rear fuel tanks because of an
increased risk of fire in the event of a rear-end crash. As of
June 2013, NHTSA had counted 51 deaths related to the issue.
Affected vehicles were model years 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty and
1993-1998 Grand Cherokee.
In a nine-page response to NHTSA, the company said it was
able to get its supplier to ramp up production by paying it for
additional robots to make the hitches.
Chrysler said that because many of the older model SUVs were
no longer on the road, and as some already had trailer hitches
installed, the number needing hitches was much lower than the
number of vehicles recalled.
Chrysler, a unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, told
NHTSA that the cost of putting trailer hitch assemblies on the
recalled SUVs was about $151 million.
Chrysler told NHTSA it estimated that 87.5 percent of the
Jeep Liberty SUVs and half of the Grand Cherokee SUVs would be
brought to dealers to have the trailer hitches installed.
Since those models were produced, Chrysler has positioned
the fuel tanks of its SUVs in front of the rear axle. Their
earlier positioning behind the rear axle left them exposed to a
greater risk of fire in the event of a rear-end collision, NHTSA
told Chrysler when demanding the recall.
Chrysler had initially resisted NHTSA's demand for a recall
of the vehicles, but then relented.
In January, NHTSA accepted Chrysler's remedy of installing
trailer hitch assemblies on the Jeep SUVs. They are expected to
make the vehicles safer in lower-speed crashes by increasing the
distance from the rear vehicle.
NHTSA officials could not be immediately reached for
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Detroit; Editing by Bernadette