WASHINGTON — U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Fiat-Chrysler will not be subject to a criminal investigation following its record settlement in the federal government's review of 23 recalls of more than 11 million cars and trucks.
"We believe that the very strong fines that we are issuing, coupled with the remedial measures will allow us to move forward," Foxx said in a media conference call on Monday after the announcement of the record $105-million settlement in the case.
Federal safety regulators have not referred the automaker to the U.S. Justice Department.
Fiat-Chrysler admitted that it failed to adequately remedy defective vehicles and failed to notify vehicle owners in a timely manner of the existence of a defect, according to the consent order released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Sunday.
The federal government has not calculated the number of injuries or lives lost related to the 23 recalls, according to NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind, who was part of the conference call.
The settlement requires Fiat-Chrysler to buy back some recalled vehicles, offer trade-in bonuses for other vehicles and pay a record fine. It is described as a "message being sent to industry" in an era of record recalls.
"That message is being sent to industry," Foxx said. "We will see more and more of the industry taking this issue much more seriously."
He said one of his priorities "has been to make NHTSA a much more muscular agency."
"We're continuing to be very aggressive when it comes to making sure that automakers are following the rules."
As part of the settlement, Fiat-Chrysler must lead industry efforts to improve auto safety.
Rosekind called the Fiat-Chrysler settlement "an unprecedented enforcement action," that "improves safety for the driving public" in several ways, including getting defective vehicles off the road.
Fiat-Chrysler on Monday issued a statement to clarify the scope of the remedies laid out in the consent order.
It said that about 193,000 recalled trucks and SUVs are eligible for the buyback program, not the more than half a million vehicles that NHTSA said were part of the settlement.
"As of this date, repairs have been completed on well over 60 percent of the subject vehicles, leaving less than 200,000 eligible vehicles," the company said of the trucks and SUVs recalled due to defective suspension parts that could cause the vehicle to lose control. "As is expressly provided for under the consent order, FCA intends that any vehicles repurchased will be remedied and resold."
Only vehicles that haven't been repaired are eligible for the buyback.
Not included in the buyback program are 1.56 million Jeep SUVs recalled for a problem that can lead to gas-tank fires. Protective trailer hitch assemblies are being installed by Jeep dealers to protect the gas tanks in those vehicles in the event of rear-end crashes.
Edmunds says: Affected Fiat-Chrysler owners should turn to their dealers for direction as this settlement gets sorted out.