The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released its annual report of traffic fatalities from 2010, and it listed an additional 10 fire deaths in 1993-2004 Grand Cherokees, according to the Center for Auto Safety (CAS).
CAS says the fuel tank on these Grand Cherokees is mounted behind the rear axle, making it prone to catch fire in rear-end collisions. In a defect petition filed with the NHTSA, CAS says 284 people have been killed in 198 such fires since the SUVs went on sale in 1993. That’s over 200 more people than were killed before Ford recalled its infamous Pinto with a similar design in the 1970s. (Read the latest letter from CAS to Chrysler, pdf.)
Chrysler contends the number is not that high. In an email, the company responds that:
rear impacts resulting in a fire are extremely rare. Rear impacts resulting in a fire occur no more often in 1993 - 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles than in peer vehicles, and the 1993 - 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles are at no greater risk of exposure to fire in rear-end collisions than peer vehicles. Accordingly, Chrysler Group has concluded that 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles are neither defective nor do their fuel systems pose an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety in rear impact collisions.