NEW YORK - The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Wednesday it has opened two new investigations into Chrysler over complaints that the ignition key could shut the engine off involuntarily and may cause air bags not to deploy in a crash.
The investigations cover about 1.2 million Chrysler vehicles, including 700,000 Dodge Journey SUVs and Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Grand Caravan minivans from the 2008 to 2010 model year. NHTSA wants to see if the keys can fall out of the run position under "harsh roadway conditions."
NHTSA said it has received at least 32 complaints from Chrysler drivers who reported that the ignition switch of their 2006-2007 Jeep Commander and 2005-2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles turned off after they accidentally hit it with their knees. Moving the key from the on position could disable the car and prevent airbags from deploying in a crash.
The second investigation is related to Chrysler's 2011 voluntary recall of 2010 Dodge Journey, Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country vehicles for a similar issue. Some owners said they still had the problem even after the recall fix was made. NHTSA said it also received complaints from owners of 2008-2009 models who said they may have the same ignition switch problem as the 2010 models.
The safety agency said the investigations were prompted by "communication with automotive manufacturers and suppliers regarding airbag design and performance related to the position of the vehicle ignition switch."
The agency started looking into problems with air bag deployments after similar ignition-switch problems in General Motors Co. (GM) vehicles.
GM has recalled roughly 6 million vehicles because of defective ignition switches or concerns that keys could cause switches to come out of position. The company links the defective switches to 54 crashes and at least 13 deaths.
In all, GM has recalled more than 20 million cars and trucks this year, including 3.4 million vehicles this week.
The automaker's latest recalls cover newer Chevrolet Camaros as well as the 2005-2009 Buick Lacrosse, 2006-2014 Chevrolet Impala (excluding the newest version), 2000 to 2005 Cadillac Deville, 2004-2011 Cadillac DTS, the 2006-2011 Buick Lucerne, the 2004 and 2005 Buick Regal LS and GS, and the 2006-2008 Chevy Monte Carlo. With most of the cars, GM says the combined force of items dangling from keychains and hitting a bump can knock the switches out of the run position.
NHTSA said there have been no reports of injuries or deaths related to the Chrysler investigation. In a statement, Chrysler of Auburn Hills, Michigan, said it is awaiting more information from NHTSA and "is prepared to cooperate fully with the investigation."
Chrysler, a unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, said it is waiting for more information from NHTSA about the probes and that it would cooperate "fully" with the investigations.
In April, Chrysler recalled nearly 870,000 2011-2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango SUVS over concerns that brake parts could corrode, possibly making it harder for vehicles to stop.
Despite the surge in recalls, automakers have enjoyed booming sales this year. Chrysler's revenue rose 17 percent in May, led by robust demand for its new Jeep Cherokee small SUV.