DETROIT — A defiant Chrysler is refusing to recall about 2.7 million Jeeps the government says are at risk of a fuel tank fire in a rear-end collision.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent Chrysler a letter asking that the company voluntarily recall Jeep Grand Cherokees from 1993 through 2004 and Jeep Libertys from 2002 through 2007.
Chrysler Group LLC said in a statement Tuesday that the Jeeps are safe and it “does not intend to recall the vehicles.”
Such a refusal by an auto company is rare. It was unclear how NHTSA would respond. Messages were left for an agency spokeswoman.
The refusal may be a negotiating tactic. Chrysler also said in the statement that it will work with NHTSA to resolve the dispute.
NHTSA opened an investigation into the SUVs in August 2010 at the request of the Center for Auto Safety, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group. The group contends that the SUVs’ gas tanks are positioned below the rear bumper and behind the rear axle, making them susceptible to rupture and spill gasoline in a rear-end crash. In a rollover crash, a lack of proper shielding for the plastic tank could cause it to puncture, the group said.
Clarence Ditlow, the center’s director, called the gas tank a “terrible design.” He has repeatedly sent letters to the company seeking a recall.
Chrysler, which is majority owned by Italy’s Fiat Spa, said its own analysis shows that there are fewer than one fire incident for every million years of vehicle operation.
“The rate is similar to comparable vehicles produced and sold during the time in question,” the company said in the statement.
When the investigation was announced three years ago, NHTSA said it had found 44 Grand Cherokee crashes and 55 deaths since 1992 where fire was listed as the most harmful factor. Of those figures, 10 crashes and 13 deaths were most likely associated with rear-end crashes, the safety agency reported.
NHTSA also said at the time that an initial review of crash data submitted by auto manufacturers showed that the Grand Cherokee did not have significantly more fires after crashes than other vehicles.