Chrysler agrees to recall 2.9 million Jeep SUVs in U.S., Canada

Chrysler avoided a showdown with U.S. government safety regulators Tuesday, agreeing to recall 2.7 million older Jeep Grand Cherokee and Liberty SUVs in the U.S. and approximately 180,000 in Canada that could be at risk of a fuel tank fire.

Grand Cherokee, Liberty recall over fuel tank follows tense stand-off with U.S. regulators

Chrysler at first staunchly refused the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's request to recall older Jeep Grand Cherokee, above, and Liberty SUV models because it did not agree with its assessment that the position of the fuel tank made the vehicles susceptible to catching fire in a collision. It eventually bowed to customer pressure and agreed to the recall. (Carlos Osorio/Associated Press)

After initially defying U.S. federal regulators, Chrysler abruptly agreed Tuesday to recall some older-model Jeeps with fuel tanks that could rupture and cause fires in rear-end collisions.

But the recall, which came in an 11th-hour deal between the automaker and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, covers only 1.56 million of the 2.7 million Jeeps that the U.S. government wanted repaired. The rest are part of a "customer service action" and many may not get fixed.

Chrysler Canada will conduct a voluntary recall of the same model years. A total of approximately 180,000 vehicles are affected by the recall in Canada.

By giving in to government pressure, Chrysler sidesteps a showdown with the U.S. government that could have led to public hearings with witnesses providing details of deadly crashes. The dispute could have landed in court and hurt Chrysler's image and its finances.

The deal still leaves some Jeep owners with gas tanks that NHTSA just two weeks ago said were risky. Chrysler maintains that they are safe and need no repairs.

Earlier this month, the automaker publicly refused the government's request to recall Jeep Grand Cherokees from model years 1993 through 2004 and Jeep Libertys from 2002 through 2007.

NHTSA, the U.S. agency that monitors vehicle safety, contends that the Jeep gas tanks can rupture if hit from the rear, spilling gas and causing a fire. NHTSA said a three-year investigation showed that 51 people had died in fiery crashes in Jeeps with gas tanks positioned behind the rear axle.

Chrysler, which is majority owned by Fiat SpA of Italy, had until Tuesday to formally respond to NHTSA, but the deal made the response unnecessary.

Chrysler will begin notifying owners about the recall in about a month, the company said.