| DETROIT, June 14
DETROIT, June 14 A probe into the risk of fire
after a rear-impact crash for older model Chrysler Group Jeep
vehicles has been raised a step closer to a possible recall and
expanded to include a total of about 5.1 million vehicles, U.S.
safety regulators said on Thursday.
The expanded probe includes about 3 million 1993-2004 Jeep
Grand Cherokee SUVs, 1.1 million 1993-2001 model year Jeep
Cherokee SUVs, about 975,000 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty SUVs.
Nearly two years ago, the U.S. National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration opened a preliminary investigation into
the possible extraordinary fire risk of 3 million Jeep Grand
Cherokee SUVs in the event of a rear-end collision. On Thursday,
NHTSA raised the level of that probe to an engineering analysis
and expanded it to include the other two Jeep SUV models.
Chrysler's primary executive liaison with U.S. federal
regulators, Dave Dillon, said that the risk of fire is not
higher among the three models than for comparable models from
other automakers, and that the models are safe.
"The vehicles are absolutely safe," said Dillon in an
However, on its website on Thursday, the regulator said,
"NHTSA's assessment of the data collected during preliminary
evaluation indicates that rear-impact-related tank failures and
vehicle fires are more prevalent in the Jeep Grand Cherokee than
in the non-Jeep peer vehicles."
The action by NHTSA is short of a recall but may lead to
one. A probe goes to engineering analysis from a preliminary
investigation when NHTSA officials want to analyze an issue more
completely before deciding to ask that the manufacturer conduct
Chrysler Group, majority-owned by Fiat SpA, no
longer makes the Jeep Cherokee, but the Grand Cherokee and
Liberty remain two of Jeep's best-selling models.
NHTSA's investigation began in 2010 almost a year after
consumer watchdog group The Center for Auto Safety contended
that the Grand Cherokee fuel tank storage system was defective
and posed a hazard in a crash, in part because its fuel tank is
located behind the rear axle, which it said increased the chance
of leaks and fire risk after a crash.
Chrysler's Dillon said the fire risk is not higher than in
competitive vehicles from other manufacturers and the fact that
Jeep moved the Grand Cherokee's fuel tank to in front of the
rear axle in models since the 2005 model year was due to a
design change and not because previous models were not as safe.
NHTSA reported that through 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee
vehicles had been involved in crashes with fires that led to 15
deaths and 46 injuries. The regulator offered no similar figures
for the other two Jeep models involved in the engineering
NHTSA said that the number of affected vehicles on U.S.
roads is less than 5.1 million due to attrition, but offered no