Fiat Chrysler chief says shifter recall won't hurt earnings

AP News
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Posted: Apr 26, 2016 12:39 PM

DETROIT (AP) — A global recall of 1.1 million cars and SUVs because drivers can't tell if they are in park will have little impact on Fiat Chrysler's earnings, the company's CEO said.

But on an earnings conference call with analysts Tuesday, CEO Sergio Marchionne complained that the company had to do the recall, which came last week under pressure from U.S. safety regulators.

The vehicles have electronic gear shifters that move forward or backward to select the gear instead of moving along a track. A light shows the gear the cars are in. But to get from "drive" to "park," drivers must push the lever forward three times. Some drivers were confused and exited the vehicles while they were still in gear, causing rollaway crashes.

Marchionne says it's "almost unbelievable" that FCA has to force the shifters into park when the driver's door is opened. The vehicles will be fixed with a software update and no physical changes will be made, Marchionne told the analysts. "We will comply and life will go on," he said.

The recall announced Friday covers the 2012-2014 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans and the 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV.

The vehicles sound a chime and issue a dashboard warning if the driver's door is opened while they aren't in "park." But the push-button ignition doesn't shut off the engine, increasing the risk of the vehicles rolling away after drivers have exited. FCA said it's aware of 41 injuries potentially related to the problem.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into the vehicles in February after getting reports that they were rolling away when they were supposed to be parked.

The agency found that the shift lever "is not intuitive and provides poor tactile feedback to the driver," according to documents posted on its website. The agency had at least 121 reports of crashes related to the issue.

Dealers will update the shifters so the vehicles won't move once the driver has exited. They will also add enhanced warning signals. FCA says customers should carefully follow the instructions for operating their shifters until their vehicles are repaired.

FCA changed the shifter design on the Charger and the 300 in the 2015 model year. It changed the Grand Cherokee's shifter in the 2016 model year.