UPDATE 1-Top U.S. regulator expects action on Fiat Chrysler over recalls

Thu Jul 2, 2015 3:33pm EDT
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(Recasts with regulator's plans, adds details of hearing and company background throughout)

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON, July 2 (Reuters) - The top U.S. auto safety regulator said on Thursday he will move quickly to take action in response to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV's mishandling of recalls involving up to 11 million vehicles.

Mark Rosekind, who heads the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said action could come by the end of July and take the form of either a consent agreement with Fiat Chrysler or unilateral enforcement action.

"There will be action," Rosekind told reporters after a two-hour hearing that featured testimony from NHTSA staff, safety advocates, victims' relatives and auto industry representatives including a senior Fiat Chrysler executive.

"What you've heard here is that there's a pattern that's been going on for some time," he said.

The automaker could face more than $700 million in fines and be required to buy back or replace vehicles if regulators find that it failed in its legal obligations. The recalls cover Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler and Mitsubishi vehicles from model years dating back to 1993.

Rosekind said the agency could also determine whether to forward the case to the U.S. Justice Department for possible criminal action.

After testimony in which NHTSA staff catalogued alleged failures in 23 separate recalls, including what they termed misleading behavior, a Fiat Chrysler executive acknowledged that regulators had raised legitimate questions. He pledged to work with the agency to improve the automaker's programs and establish best practices.   Continued...