Chrysler is certainly not going to win any popularity contests with its decision to refuse to voluntarily recall millions of Jeep Grand Cherokees and Jeep Liberty SUVs, but when you start to examine the facts, I believe Chrysler made the right decision.
Standing up for what's right is tough, especially in an overly litigious society in which lawyers toss their own verbal firebombs, fanning the flames of Jeeps and parading burn victims into court hoping for a big cut of the proceeds.
Right now, Chrysler is getting sued, I've been told, by people claiming they were victims to defective gas tanks and poorly designed vehicles that burst into flames at the first sign of a tailwind. A recall could bolster those cases.
And despite the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requesting Chrysler agree to a voluntary recall of 2.7 million Jeeps this week, Chrysler continues to say no.
I understand the dramatic footage being shown around the world and the public's oversimplified approach to blame a profit-hungry corporation for all of its ills. Still, Chrysler is right to tell the government to hit the brakes.
Don't fix what ain't broke
First of all, the request came from the U.S. government, not the pope. The government is not infallible, something it seems to go out of its way to prove nearly all the time.
Second, the recall is voluntary. That means it's Chrysler's decision, not the feds'. And Chrysler has a proven track record of recalling vehicles when there are flaws. Today, Chrysler announced it was recalling 630,000 Jeep Compasses and Patriots around the world for problems with airbags and seatbelts. If it is broken, Chrysler has shown it will fix it.
But this time, the 1993-2004 Grand Cherokees and 2002-2007 Liberties are not broken. They have passed all of the government's testing and standards. NHTSA does not dispute that fact.
Chrysler has examined data going back 30 years and more than 5 million vehicles. Its study covered 500 billion miles over 50 million registered vehicle years. It found the fiery rear-end crashes that result in fatalities occur one time for every 1 million years of vehicle operation time.
Don't misunderstand me, at least 51 people have died in Grand Cherokees and Liberties that have caught fire after severe rear end crashes over the past 20 years. And that's awful. No one wants to see other people get hurt and everyone of those deaths profoundly impacted survivors. I cannot even begin to comprehend the despair I would feel if I lost someone close to me in such a horrific way.
But that does not necessarily mean the accidents are Jeep's fault. It is awful that anyone dies an auto accident. More than 30,000 people die every year in auto-related incidents despite mandatory safety features and more laws arriving every day. That's not an excuse, but a fact devoid of emotion.
Sometimes, automakers may be responsible. But the rarity of these fires and the extreme nature of most of the accidents suggest that Jeep built solid vehicles that "met and exceeded" all regulations.
In fact, Chrysler will tell anyone listening that the majority of the accidents cited were so extreme, they involved more force than today's rear crash standards, which are double of the 1993 regs.
When a semi truck going 65 mph hits anything that is parked, the thing that is parked is obliterated. It's awful. It's deadly. It's physics.
Every vehicle on the road today has a survivability threshold. Exceed that threshold and people die. Drive an M-1 tank off a cliff and everyone inside will likely die.
All but one of Grand Cherokee accidents and all but four of the Liberty crashes with fatalities involved high-energy impacts.
Chrysler even points out the flaws in the NHTSA study, showing that it didn't use a complete data set, which it typically does. NHTSA has not responded to that point yet.
So I can see why Chrysler decided not to volunteer.
As for those Tyler Durdens out there who say there are lawyers and accountants in some room adding up figures to determine if a recall would cost more than legal settlements and the company is putting profits before people, I suggest you prove it or climb back into your conspiracy hole.
It's possible, but improbable. Life is more complex than a Chuck Palahniuk novel or Edward Norton / Brad Pitt film.
If there were those people, holding those meetings, eventually, I would find out and tell you. It's not because I am a spectacular reporter but because automakers leak information worse than my Corvair's flat-six leaks oil.
There have been times in the past when some of those unethical things were being decided and do you know what happened? The media found out. You know how? Someone in the company told them. People talk.
And right now, lots of people are talking about Chrysler's judgment. From a public relations standpoint, you score more points by apologizing, recalling the vehicles, and fixing them. But no company should be forced by the heavy hand of government to fix something that wasn't broke 20 years ago and isn't broke today.
It may be a hard decision for Chrysler to stand by its vehicles, but when you buy a vehicle from any automaker, you hope they stand by what they built. Especially when the government signed off on it.
It may be tough a choice for Chrysler, but it is also the right one.