Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV has agreed to repurchase more than half a million vehicles — most of them Ram pickups — as part of a settlement with the federal government that also includes a record $105 million penalty for delaying action on safety defects in its vehicles, Bloomberg News reported.
The action by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration resulted from an investigation of FCA’s handling of 23 recalls. The automaker has admitted that in three cases it failed to offer timely remedies or provide timely reporting to owners.
The company has agreed to notify owners of eligible Ram and Dodge Dakota pickups and Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen SUVs from model years 2003 to 2012 about buybacks and other financial incentives available to them under the agreement, Bloomberg said. Defective suspension parts on these vehicles could cause a loss of control, NHTSA said.
Additionally, owners of more than 1 million Jeep models may trade in their vehicles at above-market value or receive incentives to make repairs to the vehicles, which the investigation determined were prone to fire.
The $105 million in penalties includes a $70 million fine, $20 million in consumer outreach and a $15 million escrow account that will be paid to the U.S. Treasury in the event FCA fails to comply with certain conditions of the agreement.
The company also agreed to unprecedented oversight for the next three years, NHTSA said. This includes hiring an independent monitor approved by NHTSA to assess, track and report the company’s recall performance, Bloomberg said.
Fiat Chrysler said it agreed to address certain industry objectives, including identifying best practices for executing recalls and researching obstacles that discourage consumers from responding to recall notices.
“Fiat Chrysler’s pattern of poor performance put millions of its customers, and the driving public, at risk,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said. “This action will provide relief to owners of defective vehicles, will help improve recall performance throughout the auto industry and gives Fiat Chrysler the opportunity to embrace a proactive safety culture.”
In a statement, FCA said, “We also accept the resulting consequences with renewed resolve to improve our handling of recalls and re-establish the trust our customers place in us. We are intent on rebuilding our relationship with NHTSA, and we embrace the role of public safety advocate.”
The decree is the largest penalty ever imposed by the federal safety agency.