Monday, July 16, 2012

Chrysler's growing PR problems with Jeep

Hands up if you remember what happened to the Mercedes A-Class when it failed the elk test a few years ago? That's the rapid lane-change test that Scandinavian countries regularly do in their road tests of cars. The A-Class rolled when fully laden and it was very nearly the end of that vehicle and Mercedes. They had to redesign the rear suspension and ultimately the whole car. Skip forwards to 2012:

That's a Jeep Grand Cherokee about to go all the way over doing the elk test. This vehicle comes with traction control, ABS and rollover protection, all supposedly designed to make this impossible. (The NHTSA already knew this was an issue, giving the Grand Cherokee only 3 stars for their rollover rating). The test was performed by Swedish car magazine Teknikens Värld, and Chrysler immediately cried foul, stating that the test was rigged because the vehicle had 5 people in it and luggage. Teknikens Värld have responded that they did the test exactly as they have done on every vehicle since 1970; they loaded it up to the manufacturer-specified cargo and passenger values and performed the test. In the same group test, a similarly-laden Volvo XC90, VW Touareg and BMW X-5 had no rollover problems.
When Teknikens Värld rolled the A-Class, Mercedes listened. Same with the Toyota Hilux in 2007 and most recently, the Skoda Superb in 2012. In all cases, the manufacturers took notice and made appropriate design changes. Chrysler, so far, have taken the blame game approach. Are they waiting for someone to die before they do anything about it?
The story is everywhere right now but here's a link to the Autoblog article: Jeep Grand Cherokee fails elk test and rolls.

The second problem with Jeep's PR right now is what has become known as the Death Wobble on the Jeep Wrangler. This is a design problem with the suspension that can result in it going into undamped oscillation when going over a pot hole at anything over 40mph. Since 2005, the NHTSA has had over 600 complaints about this on various models of Wrangler. The internet is littered with videos showing the problem both from in the cabin (where the steering wheel can vibrate so badly it becomes impossible to hold) to videos shot underneath showing the problem. It's easy to reproduce but as with the rollover problem, Chrysler's immediate response is to blame someone else. This time they say it's the owner's fault for putting different suspension or wheels on the cars. That might hold water if you couldn't do this to a completely stock Wrangler, but as that's what is being most complained about, Chrysler's arguments once again hold no water. They then go on to claim that because nobody has been killed, it's not a safety issue. I'm not sure about you, but if my steering wheel is shaking so badly that I have to let go at motorway speeds, that seems like a pretty damn serious safety issue to me although once again, no deaths yet so no real interest from Chrysler.
They've now caught the attention of the house of representatives though, so maybe some government intervention might change their mind.
Chrysler's lacklustre attitude towards their products and customers on these issues are reason enough to steer well clear of them and their crappy cars.
Jeep Wrangler Death Wobble to be investigated.