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Shifter madness continues with lawsuit

by David Zatz on

It seems that any automotive news comes with its own lawsuit; if a company has a recall, lawyers and stockholders or owners immediately come forward to demand that they be repaid for damages. In this case, Reuters notes that the lawyers claim FCA “concealed” a “defect” in the “monostable” (so named because it always springs back to the same position) shifter.

monostable shifter

Reuters was unable to get a comment from FCA, since the company had not yet been served with the suit. FCA is recalling all Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler, and Maserati cars with the shifter, and updating the computer with some mildly complex logic on when they should auto-shift to Park. Audi reportedly dealt with the same problem on their shifters by automatically applying the electric parking brake — something FCA uses, but not with the monostable shifter.

FCA is not the only company having problems with oddball shifters. Consumer Reports blogged over a year ago about poor designs, linking a Mercedes stalk shifter to the fatal crash of a Mercedes SUV and a commuter train.  They noted that BMW, Acura, Jeep, and Toyota all used “unconventional” shifters.

It seems to be only a matter of time before stockholders join in and complain that management did nothing about the problem, causing the stock price to fall, as typically happens in such events (and has happened in the case of Volkswagen).

There are many cases each year of cars running over careless drivers who left the engine running and the transmission in gear, using conventional shifters. One can easily argue that the driver bears some responsibility for lack of care — Jeep has clear indicator lights both on the shifter itself, and on the dashboard. It is not hard to tell when the car is in Park without any visual cues; among other things, the pushbutton engine shutoff won’t respond to a quick jab unless the car is in Park.

A successful young actor losing his life is tragic, but every year, many people make the same mistake — in cars with traditional shifters — with the same consequences.  FCA had already reacted when he died, voluntarily recalling every car with these shifters to make them safer, and sending out (admittedly verbose, somewhat hard to read, and easily mocked) warnings to owners; indeed, the company had stopped using monostable shifters entirely. At some point, FCA’s liability needs to end.

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