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Chrysler Recalls 1.6 million Jeeps For Automatic Transmission Shift Problem

DETROIT, Feb 14 Reuters reported that Chrysler is recalling about 1.6 million Jeep Grand Cherokees to fix what hundreds of owners say is a tendency for the sport utility vehicles to roll backward when their transmissions appear to be set in ``park,'' the carmaker said on Thursday.

Chrysler, an arm of DaimlerChrysler AG , denied any responsibility for the problem, saying driver error was the most likely cause.

Federal regulators said the company's move would not end their inquiry into a wider range of Grand Cherokees linked to 364 crashes, 159 injuries and five deaths.

Chrysler said it had found no defect that could cause the problem, but would recall the vehicles anyway to appease concerns from regulators and customers, some of whom have sued. Federal investigators have said the automaker contended most of the problems stemmed from owners getting out of the vehicle while it was still running.

They went on to report that the recall covers 1993 through 1998 model year Grand Cherokees in North America. Chrysler said it would install a device inside the floor shifter to help ensure the vehicle's transmission is placed firmly in park.

Chrysler also gave customers several tips to ensure their vehicles were in park, including removing the key from the ignition when leaving the vehicle.

``We're confident this recall will be resolved based on our actions,'' said Chrysler spokeswoman Angela Spencer Ford.

The move is the industry's largest vehicle recall since 1999, when General Motors Corp. recalled 3.5 million trucks and vans to fix brake problems. There have been a handful of recalls for mechanical problems since then involving more than 1 million vehicles.

But Tim Hurd, a spokesman for the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said its investigation would remain open while it reviews data from Chrysler. In addition to the vehicles recalled, the NHTSA's investigation also covers Grand Cherokees made starting in 1999, which Chrysler said had a different transmission design.

DaimlerChrysler's shares were down 60 cents, or just over 1.5 percent, at $37.81 in Thursday afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

One class-action lawsuit is already pending against Chrysler over the problem. Some attorneys and investigators had claimed the Grand Cherokee's transmission was designed so that it would indicate it was in park even though it was actually halfway between park and reverse.

In November, the NHTSA said one of its investigators was able to replicate the problem on a Grand Cherokee three times. Chrysler claimed the government had gone to unusual lengths to test the vehicle, and said any vehicle might be susceptible to the problem under the agency's conditions.

Hurd said the NHTSA had asked other automakers for data about any similar problems they had observed. The NHTSA so far had found that among 23 SUVs, the rate of ``rollaway'' complaints for the Grand Cherokee was five times greater than for any other automaker's SUV, and four times greater than for the Dodge Durango.

Sean Kane, head of Strategic Safety, an Arlington, Virginia-based vehicle safety research firm, said automakers often offer to recall vehicles as a way of avoiding embarrassing information coming to light in an NHTSA inquiry.

``I'm glad to hear DaimlerChrysler is taking this action because there's a whole host of people who have been injured,'' he said.