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NHTSA slams automaker for defects, wrongdoing

Automakers sometimes receive the proverbial slap on the wrist from national safety regulators, with government agencies alleging acts of negligence or wrongdoing that result in admonitory warnings, threats of safety recalls and fines and additional responses that don't exactly inspire fear or quick industry compliance.

Fiat Chrysler could do with a bit of that right now, as the recently combined motor vehicle manufacturer is contemplating a just-inked settlement with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that actually bites as well as barks.

"We are sending an unambiguous message to the industry," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said late last month in the wake of an announced mandate that puts some serious pressure on Fiat Chrysler for safety lapses and the company's admitted violation of safety regulations.

For starters, the auto-manufacturing giant -- which merged last year -- is tasked with paying out $105 million in fines for myriad alleged shortcomings in the past that it has yet to fully rectify.

Those include problems with more than a score of safety recalls relating to defective vehicles and attendant accident risks. In referring to those recalls, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind noted that the company's dismal response pattern has "put millions of its customers, and the driving public, at risk."

There's more, though. Fiat Chrysler has actually admitted to wrongdoing, which is a singular admission in the auto industry. Moreover, the settlement requires that it buy back affected trucks at buyers' discretion. Close to 200,000 vehicles are implicated in the settlement. One report posits that Fiat Chrysler could potentially cough up about $900 million through repurchases.

"This is a different type of enforcement," says one consulting firm principal who lauds its stringent terms.

"It is a very good sign," he adds.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Fiat Chrysler to buy back Ram pickups as part of settlement with U.S.," Jerry Hirsch, July 26, 2015

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