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U.S. regulator: Chrysler at rear of pack on air bag recall response

Chrysler Logo 2Group LLC must expand its recall of vehicles with Takata Corp air bags and begin notifying customers of the action by Monday, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.

The Fiat Chrysler Automobiles unit is at the “rear of the pack” among automakers in telling its customers of the possible dangers of Takata’s air bags, the NHTSA said in a letter sent on Tuesday to company Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne.

Chrysler was among 10 automakers that in June began recalling vehicles registered in some high-humidity states and U.S. territories and whose possibly defective Takata air bags can explode and have been linked to at least five deaths.

In June, Chrysler recalled 371, 000 Chrysler and Dodge vehicles from model years 2005 to 2008 with the air bags.

“Throughout the process of initiating the recall, providing information to both Takata and NHTSA, making arrangements to provide replacement air bag inflators and collect inflators from the field for testing, Chrysler has consistently maintained its position at the rear of the pack, ” NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman wrote in his letter.

Chrysler is still reviewing Friedman’s letter, a company spokesman said on Wednesday.

Friedman said “Chrysler is obligated” to expand its recall to coastal areas of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama as well as southern Georgia and in Guam, Saipan and American Samoa. Takata had sent NHTSA a report on Nov. 10 that said its air bags in those areas were defective, he said.

So far, Chrysler’s recall has only covered Florida, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

NHTSA set the notification deadline for Chrysler at Monday, when Takata has said it will begin shipping replacement parts to the automaker.

Chrysler has said it will wait until Dec. 19 to tell customers because of a lack of replacement parts.

“Chrysler’s decision to delay notification until it has replacement parts deprives its customers of the ability to take their own informed, precautionary measures if they have a car with a potentially defective air bag, ” such as leaving the passenger seat unoccupied, Friedman said.

Shares of Fiat Chrysler were down 1.3 percent at $12.49 on the New York Stock Exchange. They fell 0.6 percent in Milan.

The Detroit News reported the letter to Marchionne on Tuesday night.

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