DETROIT - The U.S. government's highway safety agency wants to know if Fiat Chrysler failed to fix safety defects following a number of recalls of its vehicles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Monday that it will hold a public hearing on July 2 to determine if the automaker met its legal obligations in 20 safety recalls affecting more than 10 million vehicles.
"Any auto defect that compromises the safety of our driving public is unacceptable," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement announcing the July hearing. "Auto manufacturers are obligated to effectively remedy safety defects when they are discovered, and if they fail in that responsibility, we are obligated to act."
Among the recalls is a contentious one over 1.56 million Jeeps with gas tanks located behind the rear axles. The biggest involves almost 3 million cars with air bag inflators that can potentially rupture and injure a car's occupants.
If the agency finds that Fiat Chrysler failed to fix safety defects, it could take action including ordering the company to buy back or replace vehicles, it said in a statement issued Monday.
NHTSA said it has expressed concerns to Chrysler about its handling of the recalls. It said some consumers complained that they weren't notified of the recall, while others said dealers lacked the repair parts and didn't have service appointments available.
The agency also ordered Fiat Chrysler to provide information on the pace of repairs of several recalls.
NHTSA has long been feuding with the company over the Jeep gas tank recall. The tanks offer little protection in a rear-end collision and are responsible for at least 75 deaths nationwide, according to agency documents.
Agency administrator Mark Rosekind has said the agency could reopen its investigation into the gas tanks. NHTSA originally had sought the recall of 2.7 million Jeeps but reduced the number in a compromise with the company.
Chrysler has maintained that the Jeeps are as safe as comparable vehicles built during the same time.
"It is not enough to identify defects. Manufacturers have to fix them," Rosekind said in the statement. "Significant questions have been raised as to whether this company is meeting its obligations to protect the drivers from safety defects, and today we are launching a process to ensure that those obligations are met."
Chrysler said in a statement that the recall completion rate for all of its recalls exceeds the industry average. The company said it would cooperate fully with NHTSA.