Combustible Kugas recall does little to extinguish criticism of SA inaction

Ford South Africa announced on Monday that the 1.6-litre Kuga models produced from December 2012 to February 2014 would be recalled after numerous vehicles spontaneously combusted. This has done little, however, to silence criticisms over Ford’s delayed action in the country.

The announcement comes after Ford SA executives and National Consumer Commission (NCC) lawyers met on Friday. The meeting was held in response to about 48 of the cars bursting into flames, 11 in January alone. In one tragic incident, motorist Reshall Jimmy died when he was trapped inside his Kuga while on holiday in December 2015. 

Jimmy’s death was addressed at the press briefing and the NCC apologised. But many South Africans, including Jimmy’s family, have expressed anger at the amount of time Ford SA took to respond to the fire danger of the Kugas – especially when compared to the comparatively swift response in the United States. 

The Kuga is known as the Ford Escape in the US and the car was recalled there as far back as 2012.

In 2012, the 1.6-litre Ford Escapes were recalled because the engines were prone to overheating and fluid would leak into the exhaust system, causing fires. A year later, 140 000 Ford Escape SUV vehicles with 1.6-litre engines were recalled due to cylinder heads overheating. In 2016, Ford made a decision to recall Escape models again – this time its 2010 to 2012 vehicles – due to a fuel leak in an ignition component.

So why has the company taken this long to respond to the dangers of the Ford Kuga in South Africa?

“The field data from the vehicle in the US was very different from the field data that we see in South Africa. We know the vehicles there are left-hand drive and they are significantly different from the right-hand drive cars here, despite them sharing an underlining platform,” said George Goddu, Ford racing performance group manager.

“That’s why it’s important that we understand and don’t jump to conclusions, but allow the data to lead us down a path,” he added.

It has now been reported that some South Africans affected by the fires will pursue a class action lawsuit to hold the company to account. Although Ford will initiate safety recalls of the vehicles, the company made no mention of anyone being fired, suspended or facing any disciplinary action after Jimmy’s death or the 47 other vehicles that have burst into flames.

Too little, too late?
Ford’s chief executive, Jeff Nemeth said the fires were possibly caused by overheating of the vehicle’s exhaust manifold, turbocharger, and catalytic converter surfaces. This could lead to a broken cylinder head and an oil leak. If the leaked oil touches a hot component of the engine, a fire could start. He said the high temperatures in late 2016 could also have caused the fires.

About 6 300 Kuga models have been sold in South Africa and Nemeth said more than half of those cars have been affected.

“We’re now announcing a voluntary safety recall for the affected Kuga 1.6. Our investigation has enabled us to narrow the number of affected vehicles from 6 300 vehicles to 4 556,” said Nemeth.

NCC commissioner Ebrahim Mohamed confirmed that 4 556 vehicles would be recalled. The recall will involve having parts of the cars replaced and then returning them to the road in the hope that there will be no more fires. Mohamed acknowledged that the cars’ threat to drivers, passengers and other motorists should have been dealt with sooner.

“This issue has dragged on for too long‚” he said.

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Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

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