Sergio Marchionne, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s chief executive officer, said he doesn’t intend to speak at the hearing the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration set for July 2.
“We have a person who is responsible for regulatory compliance,” he said on the sidelines of an event Tuesday evening in Detroit. “He’s much better briefed than I am.”
NHTSA on Monday scheduled a rare public hearing into how Fiat Chrysler is handling 20 recalls, covering about 10 million vehicles. NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said it was a pattern of potential violations, rather than a specific recall, that brought the unusual action.
NHTSA has become more aggressive after being criticized by Congress for failing to be more active before last year’s revelation that about 2.6 million General Motors Co. cars had a known ignition-switch defect that went unrecalled for years. Regarding Fiat Chrysler, the agency said it has had complaints from consumers about the absence of recall notifications, the lack of parts when people schedule repairs and “misinformation from dealers.”
Marchionne said Fiat Chrysler has tried to comply with the recalls but struggles, like all automakers, to get vehicle owners to care.
“We have worked as hard as we could to try and make the recalls work,” he said. “One of the things I cannot do is somehow force customers to come in and bring their cars. I just can’t. And the repair rates of some of these recalls are either at or above industry average.”
The auto industry, he said, will adapt to the new regulatory environment.
“We’re entering a new phase of regulatory oversight,” he said. “We need to work with the agency to determine the proper level of cooperation. The real issue is that the process of adjusting to this new regulatory environment is going to be painful. We’re not used to this.”
Fiat Chrysler shares rose 0.1 percent to $15.62 at 9:38 a.m. New York time. They gained 35 percent this year through yesterday.
FCA US, the Auburn Hills, Michigan-based unit of London-based Fiat Chrysler, owns the Chrysler and Jeep brands. It was given until June 1 to turn over documents about its recall progress and could face fines of $7,000 a day for failing to cooperate with NHTSA’s special order.
“The average completion rate for FCA US LLC recalls exceeds the industry average and all FCA US campaigns are conducted in consultation with NHTSA,” the automaker said Monday in an e-mailed statement. “The company will cooperate fully.”
Rosekind declined to give an industry average after the FCA statement. He said earlier he was unhappy with the completion rate of recall repairs for a fuel tank defect on some Jeeps.
NHTSA rarely schedules public hearings on recalls. The agency usually negotiates with automakers behind the scenes over the scope of a recall, timing and potential remedies. NHTSA’s last such hearing on a recall was in 2012, for a single fix by Wildfire Motors, a small motorcycle importer.