24 June 2018

Fiat Chrysler Recalls Nearly 5 Million Vehicles

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Fiat Chrysler Automobiles FCAU -1.68% NV said Friday it is recalling nearly five million vehicles in the U.S. to fix a programming flaw that could prevent drivers by canceling the cruise control to slow their cars, a sign of how glitch-prone software is taking over more safety critical functions.

The auto maker said that drivers could lose control of vehicle speed “in an unlikely series of events” involving a short circuit in an electrical network, which would then maintain a set speed even if the brakes are tapped or a driver attempts to turn off the cruise control function.

The move is the largest recall by Fiat Chrysler since an airbag-related announcement affecting 4.3 million of its vehicles two years ago and is the latest in the series of retroactive product fixes by the auto maker, some prompted by deficient software.

It comes as the auto industry is increasingly relying on software to take over critical vehicle functions, which is putting more drivers and passengers at risk from distractions—or worse—as bugs crop up while vehicles are in operation.

Fiat Chrysler said the errant cruise control can be overpowered by continuous application of the brakes or by shifting into neutral and bringing the vehicle to a halt. The company said it is not aware of any accidents or injuries from the flaw, but did find one owner of a 2017 Dodge Journey crossover who experienced it.

“Notwithstanding the extraordinary circumstances that must exist before a customer would experience a problem, we are taking this action because we are fully committed to vehicle safety,” Mark Chernoby, Fiat Chrysler’s U.S. head of vehicle safety and regulatory compliance, said.

Cruise control to maintain vehicle speed has been around for decades and is standard in most cars sold in the U.S. today. But it is also the linchpin for the development of more advanced forms of driver assistance technology and the self-driving cars of the future.

The Fiat Chrysler recall didn’t involve vehicles with cutting edge autonomous car capabilities, but it follows high-profile incidents involving cars that did, including a fatal collision between a pedestrian and a robotic car in Arizona earlier this year that prompted Uber Technologies Inc. to cancel its test program in the state.

Those incidents may be contributing to what one recent survey found is growing unease among U.S. consumers about autonomous vehicle technology. Nearly three-quarters of American drivers are afraid to ride in a self-driving car, up from 63% last year, according to a survey published this week by AAA.

Advocates of self-driving technology say robotic cars will save more lives than they puts at risk, noting traffic-related accidents by human drivers killed 40,000 people a year in the U.S. in each of the past two years.

Fiat Chrysler separately bore a significant brunt of an unprecedented government crackdown on automotive safety transgressions in recent years.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in July 2015 hit the auto maker with a then-record $105 million penalty for lapses with nearly two dozen recalls covering more than 11 million vehicles, including older Jeeps with rear gasoline tanks linked to numerous fatal fires. The auto maker suffered an additional $70 million penalty later that year for failing to report deaths, injuries, warranty claims, consumer complaints and other safety-related information as required under U.S. law.

Regulators use the so-called early-warning reporting data to help spot possible safety problems that could require recalls. The company signed consent orders agreeing to sanctions and reforms.

The Fiat Chrysler recall issued Friday, which the company said its own engineers uncovered, targets 4.8 million U.S. market vehicles in addition to an unspecified number sold outside the U.S.

It impacts certain 2014-2019 model year vehicles with automatic transmissions and gasoline-powered engines, the company said. Included are vehicles across 16 models sold under the Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram brands, including the 2018 Jeep Wrangler SUV and 2014-2019 Ram 1500 pickup, it said.

In March, Fiat Chrysler lost its appeal of a wrongful death case stemming from a fiery Jeep crash in Georgia. The Georgia Supreme Court upheld the results of an earlier trial that hit Fiat Chrysler with nearly $40 million in legal damages on account of the Jeep fire, which killed a 4-year-old boy.

A Fiat Chrysler spokesman said the company has decided not to further litigate the Georgia Jeep-fire case. “This decision in no way reflects the company’s agreement with the result of the litigation,” the spokesman said, reiterating the auto maker’s view that the accident was caused by a reckless pickup truck driver slamming into the back of the Jeep at highway speed.

Also in March, the family of “Star Trek” actor Anton Yelchin settled a lawsuit brought against the auto maker after his Jeep rolled away and killed him in his driveway nearly two years ago. A Fiat Chrysler spokesman said the company was pleased to reach an “amicable resolution” in the matter.

Click here for the original article from The Wall Street Journal.

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