Fiat Chrysler will pay ... except when it comes to sales

For Fiat Chrysler, the record fine it will pay for mishandling 23 different safety recalls is a kick in the gut.

The amount of $105 million is more than a small matter for an automaker that is already highly leveraged and facing a tough road financially over the next five years as it expands production and sales. Still, the penalty will not break the automaker. Nor is it likely to hurt sales, according to one market analyst.

"I don't think this will hurt the Jeep brand," said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at "This is a very strong, iconic brand. Millennials aspire to it, so I don't see Jeep sales suffering much because of this penalty."

Krebs' assessment is one echoed by others in the auto industry. Like it or not, American auto buyers have become numb to major recall scandals.

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Take, for instance, General Motors, whose faulty ignition switch scandal made the automaker a punch line for late night comedy shows. Despite the regular slew of negative headlines, GM sales rose 5.3 percent in 2014, according to the research firm Autodata.

A Fiat Chrysler Jeep Grand Cherokee is seen at a dealership.
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Jeep is already the hottest brand among mass automakers, with sales surging 41 percent last year. In 2015, the brand is up 20.7 percent

So how worried is Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne about the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration finally putting the hammer down on his company?

Publicly, he's showing the contrition you would expect. Two weeks ago, as FCA was negotiating a settlement with NHTSA and it was clear there would be a big penalty for years of being way too slow handling recalls, Marchionne told reporters: "I fully acknowledge we are not perfect. I think we need to continue to work with the agency to put us on the right path."

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And that will happen, since FCA has agreed to have an independent auditor monitor how the automaker handles safety issues over the next three years. Ultimately, that could be good news for car buyers, depending on how much authority is given to that auditor.

"The devil's in the details," said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety. "What do they [the auditor] get access to inside the company?"

Fiat Chrysler to pay $105M safety fine

There's one other reason why Fiat Chrysler should be able to weather this storm: Recall scandals have become less and less of a crippling blow, especially if the automaker handles the recalls well.

"Believe it or not, you can actually improve your position as an automaker if you handle a recall in the most convenient way possible for vehicle owners," Krebs said.

For starters, Krebs said those who bring vehicles in for recall repair work want a loaner vehicle. If an automaker offers one and completes the work quickly, the recall headache can fade quickly.

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"Everyone saw how Toyota ultimately got through its recall scandal and they assumed GM would do that as well," she said. "That may very well be the case for Fiat Chrysler."

Next week, Fiat Chrysler and the other automakers report July sales. It should be another strong month for the company and industry, with the sales rate expected to top 17 million vehicles for a third straight month.

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