Jul 16, 11:15 PM EDT

Chrysler: Recall can be done faster than expected


US Video

Document
Governors' letter seeking federal help for auto industry (PDF)
Multimedia
Toyota recall
50 Years of Honda in the U.S.
Look at Detroit automakers
The Cars That Made Chrysler Famous
Latest News
Ford raising prices on new F-150

Numbers on GM recall for faulty ignition switches

Ford 2Q net profit up 6 percent to $1.3 billion

FDA warns of compounded drug recall by Texas firm

Ford names Galhotra as Lincoln's new president

Ford says new F-150 can compete with rivals

Clarification: GM-Recalls-Rental Cars story

Buy AP Photo Reprints
Multimedia
Designer Alexander McQueen Dies at 40
Fashion's Five Trends for Spring 2010
Spring 2010 New York Fashion Week
Geek Chic Fashion
CFDA's Emerging Talent Award Nominees
Met exhibit looks at models as muses
Fall 2009 runway trends
Isaac Mizrahi on what women want
Fall 2009 New York Fashion Week
Barbie turns 50
Yves Saint Laurent Exhibit
The History of Versace
Latest News
Fashion industry, retailers and the gender binary

Kiss, Usher, J.Lo to perform at Fashion Rocks

Hermes names new womenswear designer

Swimwear designer, age 19, debuts in Miami Beach

Swimwear on Miami Beach runway goes sporty chic

Documents
Peanut Corp. of America's bankruptcy petition
Interactives

Timeline of food supply problems
Blakely peanut plant inspection report for 2008
Blakely peanut plant inspection reports 2006-2007
Poison Produce: Food-Borne Illnesses
Interactive Look at Salmonella

DETROIT (AP) -- Chrysler can fix recalled Jeep SUVs far faster than U.S. safety regulators have predicted, the automaker told the government Wednesday.

The development could end a spat between the automaker and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has accused Chrysler of moving too slowly to repair about 2.7 million SUVs in a recall announced more than a year ago.

The older Jeep Grand Cherokees and Libertys have gas tanks behind the rear axles that can rupture in rear collisions, leak fuel and cause fires. The remedy is to install a trailer hitch to protect the tanks in low-speed collisions.

Although NHTSA has pushed for the recall, Chrysler has maintained the vehicles aren't defective and says it agreed to the trailer hitches because the matter "has raised public concern."

In a tersely worded letter to Chrysler earlier this month, the safety agency demanded that Chrysler answer questions about why the recall is taking so long. The agency said production of the trailer hitches didn't start until May of this year, and the pace is so slow that it will take Chrysler 4.7 years to get enough hitches if all owners respond to the recall. If only half respond, it will take Chrysler two years to get the parts, the letter said.

"The agency has no intention of allowing Chrysler, or any other manufacturer, to delay recall completion to the detriment of safety," the letter said.

NHTSA ordered Chrysler to answer the questions by Wednesday, and the automaker released its response Wednesday night.

It says that the trailer hitch supplier now has additional production capacity and can make enough hitches for the recall by March 21 of next year. The response also says NHTSA over-estimated the number of hitches needed to fix the problem, failing to account for vehicles that already have hitches and for SUVs that are no longer in use.

Chrysler estimates that just under 267,000 hitches will be needed for Grand Cherokees and 579,000 for Libertys.

The recall and a related customer service campaign cover 1993-2004 Grand Cherokees and 2002-2007 Libertys. Chrysler estimates the fixes globally will cost $151 million.

The spat over the recall pace is the latest in a long fight between the automaker and agency over the safety of the SUVs, all built before the 2008 model year. Initially, NHTSA wanted the company to recall 2.7 million of them, but Chrysler refused, saying they were as safe as similar vehicles. They eventually worked a deal to recall 1.56 million, with 1.2 million others placed in a campaign to be inspected for hitches. Last year, NHTSA said a three-year investigation showed 51 people had died in fiery crashes in the Jeeps.

Messages were left Wednesday night seeking comment from NHTSA spokeswomen.

Clarence Ditlow, head of the nonprofit Center for Automotive Research, said in a letter to NHTSA earlier this month that the agency should immediately force Chrysler to speed up the recalls. While NHTSA and Chrysler argue, four more people have been killed and two more seriously burned in Jeep fire crashes, according to Ditlow.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.