Last year, NHTSA opened an investigation into Jeep Grand Cherokee models, and has now expanded this probe to include the 2012-14 Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger. The problem? The shifter – assembled by ZF – is confusing for many drivers. "Testing ... indicates that operation of the (electronic) shifter is not intuitive and provides poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection," a NHTSA document states. More than 100 crashes and over a dozen injuries are linked to this problem, according to The Detroit Free Press.
To us, the problem isn't just limited to FCA. These unnecessarily novel gear selectors are spreading like wildfire across the industry. Honda and Acura use a weird pushbutton setup. Lincolns have buttons on the dashboard. Jaguar's shifter electronically raises out of the center console. Mercedes uses a stalk with up-for-Reverse, down-for-Drive, push-for-Neutral arrangement. And what the hell is BMW thinking with its M cars?
FCA has since abandoned the confusing shifters in question. The 300, Charger, and Grand Cherokee now use the rotary shift dial that's quickly proliferating across the company's brands. Simplistic gear selectors might not be sexy, but no one ever complained about not being able to find the right gear in a Hyundai Sonata.
What's most interesting is that this NHTSA investigation could push FCA – and possibly other automakers – to redesign vehicle functions that otherwise operate as designed. Just because most people will never have a problem putting a Dodge Charger in Reverse doesn't mean there isn't a flaw with the design. But perhaps a more simplistic solution – good ol' PRNDL – would have prevented these issues from the start.