By ThinkReliability Staff

On June 18, 2013, the manufacturer of Jeep Grand Cherokee and Liberty sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) recalled 1.56 million vehicles due to a risk of fuel tank fires during rear-end collisions. At the time of the recall, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) linked 51 deaths to the fuel tank fires. Although a fix was accepted in January, parts won’t be available to owners until August.

The NHTSA is concerned about this delay. Says O. Kevin Vincent, NHTSA Chief Counsel, “For many owners, a recall remedy deferred by parts availability easily becomes a defect remedy denied. Moreover, additional delays in implementing this recall with inure to Chrysler’s benefit at the expense of vehicle owner safety.”

Even without full information, a Cause Map can begin to develop the cause-and-effect relationships that led to an issue. As more information is provided, more detail can be added to the Cause Map.

The analysis begins by determining the impacts to the organization’s goals. In this case, the safety goal is impacted by the 51 deaths that were determined to have resulted from gasoline fires as a result of the recall issue as well as 4 additional deaths that have occurred since the recall, according to the executive director of watchdog group Center for Auto Safety. The delay in the repairs for the recall issue can also be considered an impact to the customer service and production goals.

Beginning with one of the impacts to the goals, asking “why” questions builds the Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis. Beginning with the deaths that have occurred as a result of the recall issue since the recall took place, asking “why” questions helps determine that the deaths resulted from the issue at the heart of the recall (the increased risk for gasoline fires) and the delay in repairs from the recall. (Had the repairs been implemented more quickly, the number of deaths as a result of the issue may have been reduced.)

The increased risk of gasoline fires occurs from an increased risk of fuel tank rupture in the event of a rear-end collision because the fuel tank, in an unusual design, is located behind the rear-most axle, which provides inadequate protection. The fix for the recall issue is to add a trailer hitch, which provides an additional distance between another vehicle and the fuel tank in a rear-end collision (but it should be noted will protect only against “lower to medium-speed rear-end crashes”).

Although the addition of trailer hitches was recommended by the manufacturer at the time of the recall, a supplier was not selected until December. The manufacturer has stated that it was finding new suppliers to deal with the higher-than-normal demand for these parts. It’s also possible that the manufacturer was waiting for the NHTSA to approve the fix, which occurred in January. The NHTSA was doing additional testing to ensure that the fix would be effective. After the supplier was selected, it took nearly two months for a purchase order to be issued and five months for production to begin. The reasons for this part of the delay are unknown, and are expected to be provided to the NHTSA near-term.

The delay starting production is one thing; another concern is the amount of time it will take before enough parts are available. The supplier originally selected could manufacture 1,323 Liberty trailer hitches and 882 Grand Cherokee trailer hitches a day, meaning that if all 1.56 million vehicle owners participated in the recall, it would take 4.7 years to produce enough trailer hitches. Currently, legal requirements are only that manufacturers are required to make repairs in a “reasonable time”, although most manufacturers begin repairs within about 60 days of notifying the NHTSA. This case may force the NHTSA to define what a “reasonable time” actually is.

The latest update from Chrysler is that the trailer hitch supplier has increased production capacity and will be able to meet the demand by March of 2015. Chrysler also said that the NHTSA over-estimated the number of hitches required for the recall because the calculations didn’t account for vehicles that are no longer in use or those already equipped with hitches.

To view a timeline, Outline and Cause Map of this issue, please click “Download PDF” above. Or, click here to learn more.