Jeep Stares Down Government As Recall Deadline LoomsS

Today, Chrysler is expected to respond to the federal government's request that they recall some 2.7 million Jeep Liberty and Grand Cherokee models that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials say are at risk of causing the fiery death. If Chrysler is sticking to their guns, the answer will be no.

As CNNMoney reports this morning, Chrysler said last week that they will not comply with the recall request because they disagree with the government's findings and believe their vehicles are safe.

Refusing a recall request is an extremely rare move, and certainly a risky one for Chrysler to take. From CNN:

But if it does not comply with the recall, it faces the prospect of high-profile public hearings with testimony from both car safety advocates who have pushed for the recall, as well as the parents of children who burned to death in fires. Experts say the hearing will cause Chrysler's reputation to take a hit, even if it is able to avoid the recall.

"It's a very risky gamble," said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at Edmunds.com. "Maybe Chrysler will be proven right. But it's still an uphill battle for Chrysler in the perception of quality and this could set it back."

Then again, as the story notes, Chrysler could face liability in the form of wrongful death lawsuits should they acquiesce to the recall demand. At least 51 people have died in about 37 documented Jeep fires, including a 4-year-old boy last year.

Clearly, Chrysler is between a rock and a hard place here. A recall will be expensive, and if they sincerely do believe their product is safe, why should they have to do it? Declining the recall request is a gutsy move for sure, and it's nice to see an automaker with such confidence in their product.

But I'll repeat what I said the last time I wrote about this: you can't put a price tag on public perception. If they refuse to do the recall, they risk spreading the reputation that their Jeeps are unsafe and cause fiery death, even if they really don't. Plenty of Jeep owners understand the technical reasons behind the fires, but I would argue that many more do not could be scared away from buying new Jeeps.

Do customers care that Chrysler was right or wrong? Not as much as they care about their own safety, or at least, their perception of safety. The safest thing for Chrysler might be to just bite the bullet and do the recall.

We'll see what happens later today, but I'm not counting on that.

Photo credit AP

Hat tip to Jake!