Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, facing rising scrutiny from U.S. safety regulators, on July 2 sought to reassure government officials that the company is already taking significant measures to improve its safety recall notifications, remedies and completion rates.
During public hearing testimony, Scott Kunselman, senior vice president for vehicle safety and regulatory compliance at FCA US, acknowledged problems with the company’s execution of 23 separate recalls during 2013-2015. Kunselman stressed, however, the automaker is committed to improving its overall recall campaign process.
That process will feature more timely availability of replacement parts and greater communications transparency with customers, dealers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), he said.
The 23 recalls involve about 11 million vehicles. Included are recalls for fuel systems at risk for catching fire in rear crashes, defective ignition switches that can disable a vehicle’s air bags, and defective air bags that can unexpectedly go off. “These defects have caused deaths and serious injuries,” testified Jennifer Timian, acting director of NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) and chief of NHTSA’s recall management division.
NHTSA’s ODI itself has come under fire in recent days, after the release of a scathing audit report from U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III.
NHTSA held the July 2 public hearing in Washington, D.C., to determine whether FCA US fulfilled its Motor Vehicle Safety Act obligations to fix safety defects and issue required notices in the 23 identified recalls.
NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said the agency will take enforcement action against FCA US by the end of this month.
“Fiat Chrysler takes a long time to produce the parts needed to get vehicles fixed,” testified Scott Yon, chief of the vehicle integrity division in NHTSA’s ODI. “Their dealers have difficulty getting parts for recalls. Their customers have trouble getting recall repairs done."
But recent organizational changes within the company will address many of the factors that led to such delays in the past, Kunselman said. His own position of senior vice president for vehicle safety and regulatory compliance is relatively new. It was created in September 2014, when FCA US overhauled its safety and compliance functions.
“We have broadened the expertise of our new safety and regulatory compliance organization by adding personnel such as campaign managers and campaign coordinators and additional product investigators,” Kunselman said. “In addition, our supporting functions – Mopar [FCA’s parts, service and customer care group] and purchasing and supply chain – have dedicated specific resources to recall execution.”
Additionally, Kunselman said, FCA US has reformed its internal processes to procure parts for use in safety recalls.
“Primarily, we are working closely with our suppliers to shorten the amount of time it takes to design, validate, tool and produce the required quantity of parts,” Kunselman said.
The automaker is also improving its recall tracking system, implementing new call center protocols so agents can offer to schedule service, initiating a loaner-vehicle program, launching an app to alert customers about recalls, and better tracking customer feedback after a recall is launched, Kunselman added.
To view a list of the 23 recalls at issue, click here.