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Agency to hold hearing on Fiat Chrysler recall compliance

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DETROIT  — The U.S. government's highway safety agency said it will hold a rare public hearing in July to determine if Fiat Chrysler failed to notify customers and fix safety problems in 20 recalls covering more than 10 million vehicles.

Among the recalls is a contentious one covering 1.56 million Jeeps with gas tanks located behind the rear axles. The biggest involves almost 3 million cars with air bag inflators that can potentially rupture and injure a car's occupants.

The agency could order Fiat Chrysler, formally known as FCA US LLC, to buy back or replace vehicles if it finds the company failed to fix defects, according to a statement issued Monday.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said some consumers complained that they weren't notified of the recalls, while others said dealers lacked repair parts and didn't have service appointments available.

"To prevent crashes, injuries and deaths, manufacturers need to fix these defects," agency administrator Mark Rosekind said on a conference call.

Such public hearings occur rarely, and a single hearing for one manufacturer on multiple recalls is unprecedented, said Allan Kam, a former NHTSA enforcement attorney.

Fiat Chrysler, he said, likely was not giving the agency satisfactory answers in conversations before it set the hearing date. He expects the company to settle the matter before the hearing to avoid bad publicity.

NHTSA has been feuding with Fiat Chrysler for more than two years over the Jeep gas tank recall. The tanks offer little protection in a rear-end collision and are responsible for at least 75 deaths nationwide, according to agency documents.

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