Chrysler announced last year that it was recalling 1.6 million 1993-98 Grand Cherokee and 2002-7 Jeep Liberty sport utility vehicles after a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report found the vehicles to be a fire hazard in rear-impact crashes.
The automaker recently told the agency that it wouldn't begin fixing vehicles till August. But the agency sent it an order on July 2, saying that at the current pace of repairs, it would take too one to fix the flaw and asked Chrysler to respond to the order by Wednesday.
"The agency has no intention of allowing Chrysler, or any other manufacturer to delay recall completion to the detriment of safety," the order said.
Chrysler responded Wednesday saying that it had upped the pace of production on parts required for the repairs and that there should be enough parts by next March to fix all vehicles.
The NHTSA took the unusual step of itself testing the trailer-hitch remedy proposed by Chrysler and said that it was satisfied but not with the pace of repairs. The issuance of a special order is also very rare, because it normally requires an official from the automaker to make an sworn statement that can be investigated by the Justice Department.
"My impression of the special order is that it is 90 percent public relations and 10 percent of a soft inquiry to Chrysler," said Allan Kam, a safety consultant in Bethesda, Md., who worked for the agency for more than 25 years.
The automaker and federal agency have been at loggerheads over this recall. After conducing an investigation, the NHTSA asked Chrysler to recall nearly 2.7 million Jeeps for having the technical problem. But Chrysler issued their own white paper on the issue saying that only 1.6 million of the affected Jeeps were on the road, of which only 1.3 million needed repairs.