Ford South Africa has announced a recall of 4 556 units of its 1,6-litre Kuga model, sold between December 2012 and February 2014.
Affected cars require components in the cooling system to be replaced and software updated. The recall has been implemented following an approach to the company by the Government’s National Consumer Commission (NCC) in the wake of media reports of under-bonnet fires in a number of Kugas.
The role of the NCC is to ensure the safety of products sold locally. “A product that poses a risk to consumers has no place in South Africa,” said its director, Ebrahim Mohamed. “If Ford had not issued its voluntary recall now, the NCC would have made it mandatory.”
He said the NCC would monitor Ford’s progress for the duration of the recall period, and had issued instructions to the company for a report back on a bi-weekly basis.
Jeff Nemeth, CEO of Ford South Africa, said that, based on current data, engines of affected models had been found to be overheating due to a lack of coolant circulation which, in turn, could cause the cylinder head to crack, resulting in an oil leak. “If the leaking oil reaches a hot engine surface, it can potentially catch fire,” he said.
In a statement, Ford said it was aware of 39 incidents of under-bonnet fires involving the Kuga 1,6 and had examined all units, sending engines and even entire cars to its headquarters in the United States for analysis.
“There have been zero injuries to drivers or passengers in these 39 cases,” Nemeth said. “At this point, the case in which Reshall Jimmy burnt to death in his Ford Kuga in 2014 is not believed to have been caused by an under-bonnet fire.”
However, Jimmy’s family has established through private forensic investigators that the fire in the vehicle started behind the dashboard on the passenger side. They have vowed to make Ford accept responsibility for the death of Reshall and have instituted civil proceedings against the company.
According to Nemeth, inspection to the 39 units with fire damage as well as other 1,6-litre models examined as part of voluntary safety inspections allowed Ford to pinpoint the cause of the fires.
However, the company was still trying to determine exactly why the cooling problem had manifested itself only in South Africa and not in other markets where the derivatives, which are manufactured in Spain, had been sold.
Nemeth said Ford was committed to keeping customers mobile and would provide courtesy cars for owners of Kugas whose vehicles were affected by the recall. He said repairs could take some time as Ford was currently experiencing a shortage of required parts.
Improvements to affected vehicles had been designed to make cooling systems more robust and would include improved early warning systems for indications of engine overheating.
However, a Ford representative said data was still being gathered, pointing to the possibility that modifications needed were more substantial than those disclosed by the company – an indication that customers could find themselves behind the steering wheels of courtesy cars for longer than anticipated.
On the question of whether the overheating fault could affect the lifespan of the vehicles, Ford representatives responded that they did not believe it would.
In response to questions on how the company would deal with the cars that had suffered fire damage, Nemeth said that each case would be assessed on merit. “Our top priority at this stage is the safety of our customers,” he said.
Though other derivatives in the Kuga range were said not to have be affected by the overheating problem, company representatives said anything learnt from on-going investigations could be used to improve all models if necessary.
Ford representatives declined to comment on the cost implications of the recall programme.
In the wake of the recall, Ford South Africa – which ranks third in the country’s vehicle sales charts – will need to work hard to win back the favour of affected customers and the motoring public in general.
The lethargy with which it is perceived to have reacted to initial reports of a potential problem regarding the Kuga – and the prodding needed by NCC before it issued a voluntary recall – doesn’t augur well for the company’s standing as a proactive, progressive motoring entity.
It is up to Ford to make right what is wrong, and the way the company deals with fallout from the recall will determine the extent of its reputational damage. – Reuben van Niekerk