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DETROIT — A major recall of pickup trucks announced Friday by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is another dose of bad news for a company already on the skids in the American market.
In the latest in a series of safety problems dating back three years, the company said it would recall more than 1.2 million Ram pickups to fix faulty software that can disable airbags and seatbelt tension devices.
The defect has been linked to accidents resulting in one death and two injuries, the company said in documents submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The recall is particularly troublesome for Fiat Chrysler because it involves the Ram pickup — by far its best-selling vehicle and one of its only models whose sales are growing in a declining domestic market.
The Ram accounts for about one in four vehicles sold by the company in the United States. And in the first four months of this year, sales of the pickup rose nearly 6 percent, while the company’s overall sales declined 8 percent.
The recall could cloud the reputation of the Ram pickup at a time when Fiat Chrysler’s other major profit producer, the Jeep lineup of sport utility vehicles, is slipping in the marketplace.
One dealer said it was crucial that Fiat Chrysler move quickly to fix the flaw. “This is one where we want to make sure the consumer is safe,” said the dealer, Mark Scarpelli, whose two locations near Chicago sell Ram trucks. “The manufacturer realizes this is important, and so do the customers.”
The automaker told regulators that computer modules in the affected pickups could fail if the underbody of a truck was struck, causing side airbags and equipment on seatbelts to shut off.
Fiat Chrysler said the recall covered 1.02 million vehicles in the United States and 259,000 trucks in Canada, Mexico and other international markets.
The company identified the vehicles recalled as 2013-16 Ram 1500 and 2500 pickups, and 2014-16 Ram 3500 models.
Fiat Chrysler said it began an internal investigation of the problem in December because of a lawsuit contending that airbags and seatbelt devices had failed in a rollover crash involving a 2014 model Ram 1500.
The inquiry found that a significant impact to the underside of Ram pickups could cause the computer systems to generate error codes that temporarily disable the safety equipment.
“The company is aware of one fatality, two injuries and two accidents that may be related” to the defect, according to a statement on Fiat Chrysler’s website.
Fiat Chrysler did not identify the victims in the crashes or provide details of the incidents.
The company said it would begin the recall next month to reprogram the affected computer modules.
Until repairs are performed, drivers were urged to heed warning lights on the instrument panel of their vehicles that would be illuminated when the modules fail. The company said “normal restraint-system function may be restored” by turning the vehicle’s ignition off, and then on again.
The recall comes after a spate of other continuing safety issues at the company, which is the smallest of Detroit’s three automakers after General Motors and Ford Motor.
In December, the national highway agency opened an investigation into complaints that one million Ram pickups and Dodge Durango S.U.V.s could roll away after drivers shift transmissions into park.
The problem is similar to the one blamed for the death of the “Star Trek” actor Anton Yelchin, who died in June after his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee pinned him against a mailbox and fence at his home in Los Angeles.
His Jeep was among 1.1 million vehicles recalled a few months earlier because of complaints that drivers had trouble identifying when their vehicles were in the park mode. Owners had reported 25 crashes and nine injuries tied to the electronic shifter in those vehicles.
Fiat Chrysler’s reputation for safety and quality has been under intense scrutiny since 2015, when regulators levied a $105 million penalty against the company for failing to complete recalls covering more than 11 million vehicles, and an additional $70 million in fines for underreporting deaths and injury claims tied to potential defects.
In a consent order with the government, Fiat Chrysler agreed to overhaul its safety procedures under the oversight of an independent monitor.
Recalls for the industry are down this year so far. According to the highway agency, automakers and parts suppliers have announced 293 safety recalls affecting 13.6 million vehicles in the first four months of this year.
During the same period in 2016, manufacturers and suppliers initiated 302 recalls covering 27.5 million vehicles, according to the agency.
Original artical posted in the New York Time by: BILL VLASIC and NEAL E. BOUDETTE MAY 12, 2017
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