Although it would not say that it was prompted by the death of actor Anton Yelchin, who was killed Sunday when his Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV rolled down his driveway and pinned him against a mailbox post and security fence, Fiat Chrysler yesterday sped up the recall of 1.1 million similar vehicles to make a software fix to the gear-shifter as it struggled to contain the story.
Yelchin’s model “was among the vehicles recalled in April due to complaints from drivers who had trouble telling if they put the transmission in ‘park’ after stopping. Many reported the vehicles rolled off after the driver exited,” the AP’s Tom Krisher reports.
“On Wednesday, [Fiat Chrysler Automobiles] said in a statement that it started providing its 2,427 dealers with a software update last week, days before Yelchin died. Previously the company had said the update would be ready in July or August,” Krisher continues.
Meanwhile, “in an era of unprecedented scrutiny of automotive safety, Fiat Chrysler is learning that one celebrity’s death can turn a seemingly routine recall into a corporate crisis,” writes Bill Vlasic for the New York Times.
Headlines throughout the week have pointed out that the defect was a known issue.
“A company spokesman, Eric Mayne, on Wednesday declined to say how the death of Mr. Yelchin, which is still under investigation by Los Angeles police, affected Fiat Chrysler’s internal decision to move up the repair schedule,” Vlasic reports. “Our schedule was already accelerated,” Mayne told him, “without providing further details on the decision.”
“The shifter, called the ‘Monostable’ shifter, was designed by German supplier ZF, but Fiat Chrysler was responsible for integrating it into various Jeep, Dodge and Chrysler vehicles and developing safeguard mechanisms,” explains David Tracy for Jalopnik, who reports that it has been cited in numerous complaints on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s database.
“The mushroom-shaped unit does not slide up and down entirely the way a traditional automatic shifter does, but rather can be moved back or forward while changing gears, after which it then returns to center,” Tracy writes. He found the “tactile feedback … very subtle compared to what most drivers are probably used to.”
“Records from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show more than 300 consumer complaints about the problem,” reports Chris Isidore for CNNMoney. “Those incidents resulted in 212 crashes and 41 injuries, including at least seven requiring hospitalization. Those serious injuries included three people who fractured their pelvis, a ruptured bladder, a fractured kneecap, broken ribs and an injured right leg.”
Other negative tales about the Jeep Grand Cherokee are surfacing. Consider Dan Kaplan’s lede in the New York Daily News: “What a bunch of Jeep bastards.” He continues: “It’s hard to be surprised that the SUV that tragically killed ‘Star Trek’ actor Anton Yelchin was a Jeep Grand Cherokee — my family has been driving the same model for almost two years and weathered an unhealthy string of safety recalls since we brought it home.”
They include a dashboard panel going dark while the car was moving, a transmission problem and a notice that the vehicle “could suddenly burst into flames without warning,” Kaplan writes. And when he mentioned the problems he and other folks he’d compared notes with to a Chrysler rep last summer, “his response was to blame the media for misreporting information about the dangerous flaws. He also slammed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for creating a ‘confusing’ recall system.”
Usually, when a product placement deal goes awry, it involves the bad behavior of a celebrity client. Not this time.
“This week, 20th Century Fox has found itself in the awkward position of publicly linking arms with the Jeep Grand Cherokee,” writes Brooks Barnes for the New York Times.“Fox and Jeep have an extensive marketing and product-placement deal for ‘Independence Day: Resurgence,’ which arrives in theaters this week.”
The piece is illustrated by a photo of star Vivica A. Fox and Christian Kelley, her godson, posing in front of a Grand Cherokee at the movie’s premiere in Los Angeles on Monday.