Consumer Reports has released its annual list of ‘Worst Cars.’ There’s one company that stands out among the rest.
When Consumer Reports reveals its annual list of the “Worst Cars” each October, there’s at least one question I ask myself: Do these so-called “worst cars” ever get better?
Let’s compare the top four “worst cars” of 2015 with the worst of 2014: The 2015 list includes the Chrysler 200, the Landrover Discovery Sport, the Lexus NX 200t/300h and the Kia Sedona. The 2014 list ranks the Scion tC, the Chevy Spark, the Scion iQ, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Mitsubishi Mirage, the Smart for Two and the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited as “worst cars” of the year.
Consumer Reports ranks these and other vehicles based on several factors like fuel economy and the way a car actually feels on the road. For my money, though, I’m thinking about safety. So is, in part, Consumer Reports, which states: “Safety remains a top concern for new-car shoppers, and fortunately, today’s modern cars offer more occupant protection and accident avoidance technologies than the typical model being traded in. But not all cars are equal; there are clearly those models that perform better in our dynamic tests, as well as crash tests conducted by the government and insurance industry.”
So being that not all cars are created equal, it’s no surprise that the “worst cars” list is something of an attention grabber. While the top 5–10 worst cars grab headlines each fall, other models find lesser prominence in subcategories like sedan and SUV, making the full report much more robust than what you’d think, and with many more brand name vehicles. Combing through the list and taking into account all these various subcategories, there’s at least one company that stands above (or below?) the rest. That’s Fiat Chrysler. For the last two years, Fiat Chrysler’s vehicles have been featured more times than any other company; five cars made last year’s list, which is now up to seven in 2015.
If you’ve been following the news, you know that Fiat Chrysler has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Two weeks ago, Chrysler recalled 200,000 2014 Jeep Cherokees because of faulty windshield wipers. Earlier this summer, two computer engineers successfully hacked the computer console of a Jeep Cherokee, deliberately leading the driver (a writer for WIRED magazine) to a ditch. The car conglomerate later recalled thousands of Cherokees after the article was published. By then the damage was done.
According to data gathered by The Detroit News, Fiat Chrysler has accounted for almost one-third of all U.S. auto recalls in 2015. This year the company set a record for 10.2 million vehicles out of 24 recall campaigns. To top things off, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration slapped Fiat Chrysler with $105 million fine for improperly recalling vehicles as part of a dozen campaigns over the last two years, the largest fine ever imposed by the NHTSA. The number was partly determined because Chrysler admitted that it failed to fix problems, or was slow to inform consumers of the defects.
So what, if anything, is changing at Fiat Chrysler? That’s a question that has yet to be answered. Regardless, the “Worst Cars” report is a barometer for consumers, one that carries weight for insurers and lawyers who are quick to take note of record-breaking fines and rankings on unflattering lists. And for Fiat Chrysler, the trust factor is getting lower and lower. Consumers should be taking note of such trends, asking themselves if any of these rankings, recalls and bad press is a byproduct of a corporate culture that’s prone to make questionable business decisions than consumer-driven ones.
Fiat Chrysler should be taking note, too, primarily about consumers who deserve safe and secure vehicles. Otherwise next year’s list will feature more of the same.