Fiat Chrysler Sending Out Fix for Faulty eShifters on Recalled Jeep, Sedan

Jeep investigating possible link to death of Star Trek actor Yelchin.

by on Jun.23, 2016

Jeep had been hoping to gain momentum with the Grand Cherokee's appearance in the new film, Independence Day Resurgence.

A top official at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said the carmaker wants to investigate the weekend accident that took the life of actor Anton Yelchin, best known for his role in the Star Trek movie series. He was killed when his Jeep Grand Cherokee unexpectedly pinned him against a gate at his home, apparently leading to asphyxia.

The 2015 sport-utility vehicle was one of 1.1 million FCA vehicles recalled earlier this year to fix an electronic shifter system that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration System called “unintuitive,” citing numerous complaints from owners who said they could not figure out what gear they were in. The automaker had issued a warning to owners but had not begun repairs at the time Yelchin was killed.

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“We’re waiting to be able to start our own investigation,” said Michael Manley, the president and chief executive of the Jeep brand, during a media roundtable at FCA’s proving grounds an hour outside Detroit on Thursday. “Obviously, we would like our own people to go over the vehicle.”

The recall covered not only the Jeep Grand Cherokee but some recent versions of the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans. All three models are equipped with an electronic shifter that changes gear through an electronic, rather than mechanical, link to the transmission. The shifter can be toggled forward and back, but does not move like a conventional gear lever – something experts say contributes to driver confusion.

Actor Anton Yelchin was best known for his role as a young Pavel Chekov in the Star Trek reboot.

(FCA not the only maker with e-shifter problems. Click Here for the exclusive report.)

News reports have indicated Fiat Chrysler is speeding up the effort to begin fixing the e-shifter problem in the wake of Yelchin’s death. Manley said that is not accurate, telling reporters the automaker was about to begin repairs anyway.

The fix “will be ready by the end of the month,” according to Manley.

Precise details have not been released, but sources close to the automaker told that the fix will include both software changes and a replacement for the original e-shifter. The new lever should operate more like a conventional shifter and make it much more obvious what gear the vehicle is operating in.

Investigators in Los Angeles are not yet ready to pinpoint the cause of actor Yelchin’s death. Toxicology reports could take as much as two months to complete. Even if the Jeep he owned was shifted into the wrong gear, meanwhile, it is not clear how he wound upstanding behind the vehicle when he was struck.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee shifter was labelled "unintuitive" by NHTSA, and ordered recalled.

(Child car heatstroke deaths surge. New tech could help. Click Here for the story.)

The Grand Cherokee has seen a surge in demand this year, reflecting both the strength of the recovering U.S. automotive market and the boom in sales, overall, of sport-utes. Jeep was hoping to gain even more momentum with the upcoming release of “Independence Day Resurgence,” the sequel to one of Hollywood’s biggest hits. The Grand Cherokee is given prominent placement in the film.

The recall covers 2014 and 2015 versions of the Jeep. The Grand Cherokee switched to a rotary shifter knob for the 2016 model-year.

For his part, analyst Joe Phillippi, of AutoTrends Consulting, said he does not expect the shifter issue to be a major problem for FCA, at least in terms of sales. “I think it will have only a modest impact,” he said.

The maker could face a financial hit, however, if the estate of Yelchin takes legal action in the wake of the actor’s death.

(FCA to stop using Takata airbags targeted for recall. Click Here for the latest.)

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