In February, we reported that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was looking into certain Fiat Chrysler electronic shifters, which seemed to cause cars to roll away after they were parked. Well, now it looks like Fiat Chrysler has decided to recall 1.1 million vehicles to prevent such a vehicular runaway.
Fiat Chrysler announced today in a press release that it is voluntarily recalling 1.1 million cars worldwide equipped with the ZF eight-speed shifter you see below. These vehicles include 2012-2014 Dodge Chargers and Chrysler 300s and 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Of the 1.1 million vehicles, approximately 811,000 are in the U.S., while 52,000 are in Canada, 17,000 are in Mexico and the remaining 249,000 are outside of North America.
Unlike traditional automatic transmission shifters, the ZF shifter in Fiat Chrysler’s vehicles (similar to shifters found in other new vehicles like the BMW 320i), returns to the same position after each driver input. There’s no physical “park” or “drive” gear lever position, only a light that changes from D to P.
In addition, there’s a warning chime if the driver-side door is open and the engine is not in the “park” position. Fiat Chrysler says all this still wasn’t sufficient feedback for drivers to know what gear their cars were in, so “some drivers... exited their vehicles without first selecting ‘PARK.’”
The result was people watching their vehicles essentially just drive away. The company says it knows of 41 injuries that might be related to this “confusing” shifter, though Fiat Chrysler maintains that nothing was wrong with the cars, saying: “the vehicles involved in these events were inspected and no evidence of equipment failure was found.”
FCA’s recall will “combine [additional] warnings with a transmission-shift strategy to automatically prevent a vehicle from moving, under certain circumstances, even if the driver fails to select “PARK.”
It’s not clear why newer Chargers, 300s and Grand Cherokees are not included in the recall. Has Fiat Chrysler added additional warnings? I’m not sure. Though I can tell you that I have driven the vehicles affected by this recall, and I found the shifters to be fairly intuitive.
It’s also not clear exactly how Fiat Chrysler will alter the transmission shift strategy. Perhaps they’ll simply add some code that automatically puts the transmission in park when the driver’s door is open, and the vehicle speed is at or very near zero.
Either way, recalling vehicles is a costly process for automakers, though in this case, the bill will likely be footed by ZF.
ZF has sent a statement on the manner:
ZF supplies gearshift systems to automotive manufacturers according to their technical and design specifications. The manufacturer designs the integration of the gearshift system into the vehicle operating concept and develops the respective safeguard mechanisms. ZF delivered a fully functional state-of-the-art product, which was integrated into the vehicle architecture by the manufacturer. As such, ZF is unaware of any indications that claims could be made against ZF in the context of the current NHTSA investigations of the FCA vehicle models “2014-15 Grand Cherokee; 2012-14 Charger & 300 w/3.6 l engine”.
So it looks like ZF won’t be footing any bills.