Chrysler Agrees To Recall 1.56 Million Jeeps Over Fires After All

In a surprising reversal from earlier statements, Chrysler officials say they have agreed to voluntarily recall some 1.56 of the 2.7 million Jeep Liberty and Grand Cherokee models at risk for fires. The move, they say, will resolve their "dispute" with the federal government.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said that plastic gas tanks behind the axles of 1993-2004 Grand Cherokee and 2002-07 Liberty models can be punctured and catch fire when hit from behind.

It's an unexpected move from Chrysler for sure. Just a few hours ago, the company seemed poised to ignore the recall request, an extremely rare move for any automaker. Chrysler previously claimed that a recall was unnecessary because the vehicles are safe.

In a statement, Chrysler said that they "will conduct a voluntary campaign with respect to the vehicles in question that, in addition to a visual inspection of the vehicle will, if necessary, provide an upgrade to the rear structure of the vehicle to better manage crash forces in low-speed impacts."

At the same time, they say that their Jeep models are among the safest in their class, nor are they saying there was in fact a defect. But they seem to recognize what some (including your humble author) have been saying since this controversy first arose: They may be right, but people are still concerned about their safety, and that can be a far more expensive problem than any recall.

Chrysler Group’s analysis of the data confirms that these vehicles are not defective and are among the safest in the peer group. Nonetheless, Chrysler Group recognizes that this matter has raised concerns for its customers and wants to take further steps, in coordination with NHTSA, to provide additional measures to supplement the safety of its vehicles.

Chrysler Group regards safety as a paramount concern and does not compromise on the safety of our customers and their families.

What do you guys think? Did Chrysler make the right move here, or did they cave to pressure from the government and the public?

Update: Here's Michelle Krebs, an analyst for Edmunds.com:

"We haven't seen all of the details of the voluntary recall so we don't know what precisely Chrysler and NHTSA have agreed to. But Chrysler obviously calculated the risks and benefits and concluded that the cost to repair these vehicles isn't as expensive as the potential long-term damage that could come from bad PR. This was probably the right decision by Chrysler. Last year there were 659 recalls issued by NHTSA, and none of them appear to have had a lasting negative impact on any brand. Once the smoke settles, I expect that this will be just a minor blip in Jeep's history."

Update 2: The fix will include the possible instillation of a trailer hitcher on about 1.56 million models, not including '99 to '04 Grand Cherokees which are under a "customer service action."

Photo credit NHTSA