DETROIT (AP) – Ford Motor Co. says its notice to dealers to stop delivering Focus SVT cars because of a cruise control problem is not a sign the automaker’s quality problems are returning.
An attorney working with a safety consultant, however, says the automaker’s systems are dangerously flawed.
The problem with the cruise control cable was discovered during an internal quality audit at the Hermosillo, Mexico, assembly plant where the cars are built, Ford spokesman Todd Nissen said yesterday.
“We take quality seriously. That’s why we do these quality audits at plants to try to avoid these things,” he said.
The “stop sale” order involves 569 Focus SVT cars, a “small number” of which have been delivered to customers, Nissen said. The cable could become caught on part of the throttle body assembly, causing the throttle to become stuck open.
No accidents or injuries have been reported as a result of the problem, Nissen said.
Delivery of cars to dealers is being delayed a few weeks while the problem is fixed at the plant. Most of the vehicles affected were built from early March to early April.
Customers who have taken delivery will be able to have their cars retrofitted with the new parts as they come in, Nissen said.
An attorney working with Safetyforum.com, an Arlington, Va.-based safety consulting organization, said problems with malfunctioning cruise control mechanisms on Ford vehicles have resulted in at least one death and several crashes. In those cases, the throttle stuck open and drivers could not stop their vehicles, said the attorney, Hike Heiskell.
“There is a huge and growing body of evidence that the electronics of these systems pick up signals from other engine components and random signals from airport transmitters, causing sensors to believe the driver is putting in a higher speed command,” Heiskell said.
The automaker has denied there are any problems with its cruise control systems.
“Our data shows there is no issue with speed control design,” Nissen said.
Ford has suffered through several rocky launches in the last few years, and its rating in industry quality studies has stagnated. The company has made quality improvement a priority as part of the restructuring plan it announced in January.
John Tewes, a spokesman for J.D. Power and Associates, which publishes the widely followed annual Initial Quality Study, said the fact that Ford caught the problem before too many vehicles reached customers is a sign “Ford has really tightened quality checks, and apparently it’s working.”
Over the last two years, Ford has raised its quality standing in the premium compact segment, which the Focus SVT occupies, but is still slightly below industry average, Tewes said.
The next Initial Quality Study will be released at the end of May.
The automaker is in the midst of the launch of the much higher volume and profitable redesigned Ford Expedition and is readying the summer launch of the redesigned Lincoln Navigator.
One analyst said the problem in the much smaller volume – and less expensive – Focus SVT may just be a case of Ford taking its eye off the ball while making sure more important launches are trouble-free.
“They’ve got to make sure the risk is as low as possible on a super-high-volume vehicle like the Expedition,” said Jim Hall, vice president of AutoPacific.
Ford says there have been no glitches so far in the launch of the new Expedition.