Jeep Grand Cherokee and Chrysler vehicles in New Zealand are affected by a global recall for an automatic transmission shift lever that is at the centre of a probe into the death of Hollywood actor Anton Yelchin.
Attempts to reach the NZ distributor, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), for the exact number went unanswered. But FCA Australia – where more than 47,000 are affected – issued a statement overnight.
It confirmed the recall affects model-year 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees and MY2012-2014 Chrysler 300s “equipped with electronic shift levers that return to a centre position after selecting drive, neutral, reverse or park”.
Russian-born Yelchin, 27, was found dead at the bottom of his steep driveway in Los Angeles last week. Police said his Grand Cherokee had rolled backwards and pinned him against a mailbox and security gate.
It was one of the models caught up in the global recall by FCA in April of more than one million vehicles after it was feared the shift lever could lead to roll-away incidents.
The death of the actor, who appeared in the Star Trek films, has vaulted the recall into the global spotlight. FCA spokesperson Eric Mayne told news outlets in the US that the company would investigate the incident. But he added: “It is premature to speculate on its cause at this time.”
The recall centres on a risk that the design of the automatic transmission shift lever could lead to drivers leaving it in the wrong position when they got out of the vehicle, thereby leading it to potentially roll away.
It came after the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into incidents in which people were hurt. It began its probe last August but expanded it in February, saying the design of the shift lever is confusing for drivers.
FCA said it was aware of 202 crashes and 41 injuries in the US potentially related to the issue but that the vehicles involved were inspected and no evidence of equipment failure was found.
It said in April it would add safety measures to the shifter, but wouldn’t be able to do so until later in the year. Now it says: “FCA anticipates having the software updates required to remedy the above vehicles no later than July/August of 2016.”
US watchdog group the Centre for Automotive Safety criticised the time it is taking FCA to fix the vehicles. “The design of the monostable gear selector has been the source of much confusion for Chrysler owners, resulting in hundreds of rollaway incident reports to both Chrysler and NHTSA,” it said.
The FCA Australia statement said, in part:
“The selected gear is conveyed to the driver by multiple sets of indicator lights. As a safety precaution, the vehicles deliver warning chimes and alert messages if a driver attempts to switch off the engine when in any gear other than park, or if the driver-side doors are opened while their engines are still running and park is not engaged.
“As a further safety precaution, it is also recommended that drivers engage the parking brake whenever they leave the vehicle. However, an investigation found these measures may be insufficient to deter some drivers from exiting their vehicles without first selecting park.
“FCA Australia will enhance the warnings and transmission-shift strategy on these vehicles via a software update. The enhancements will combine warnings with a transmission-shift strategy to automatically prevent a vehicle from moving, under certain circumstances, even if the driver fails to select park.”
- Fiat Chrysler NZ CEO David Smitherman said late today that so far the company had identified 38 Chrysler 300s affected by the recall, but no Grand Cherokees. “Zero at this stage, but we are waiting for more advice from the factory,” he said.