Ask Ge­orgie tack­les burn­ing Ford Kuga is­sue

The way in which the safety re­call of the 2012 to 2014 Kuga EcoBoost models has been dealt with has in­censed con­sumers. Many of them don’t want a re­pair – they want an­other car or their money back

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE -

AP­PALLINGLY han­dled, a PR fi­asco and a les­son in how not to han­dle cri­sis com­mu­ni­ca­tion – the Ford Kuga is­sue has not only cost one per­son his life but al­legedly de­stroyed al­most 50 ve­hi­cles (the com­pany dis­putes this).

It’s shattered con­sumers’ con­fi­dence in the 113-year-old Amer­i­can brand and Ford SA’s at­tempts to man­age the sit­u­a­tion has only made mat­ters far, far worse.

The Kuga 1.6 EcoBoost model, man­u­fac­tured be­tween 2012 and 2014 – iron­i­cally known over­seas as the Es­cape – weren’t re­called when South Africans started com­plain­ing about its com­bustible SUVs.

In­sur­ance com­pa­nies alerted Ford more than a year ago but the re­call hap­pened only when the Na­tional Con­sumer Com­mis­sion (NCC) stepped in, giv­ing Ford an ul­ti­ma­tum that if it didn’t, the ve­hi­cles would be pulled off the road.

“One in­ci­dent is one too many and this is­sue has dragged on for too long… no brand is above the law‚“com­mis­sioner Ebrahim Mo­hamed said at last week Mon­day’s press con­fer­ence when the re­call was an­nounced.

“The NCC has con­cerns for the users of the Kuga and the var­i­ous life-threat­en­ing in­ci­dents. A prod­uct which poses risks to con­sumers doesn’t have a place in our mar­ket­place,” he said.

In to­tal, 4556 Ku­gas must be re­called. The af­fected cooling sys­tem com­po­nents have to be re­placed, a soft­ware up­date conducted and an oil leak check done on the cylin­der head. But this does not con­sti­tute a proper safety re­call – in ef­fect, it’s sim­ply a main­te­nance re­call.

Still, Ford South­ern Africa chief ex­ec­u­tive Jeff Nemeth as­sured miffed cus­tomers that safety was its high­est pri­or­ity: “We will lis­ten to them (our cus­tomers) while we work to en­sure that the in­tegrity of the cooling sys­tem is main­tained. There is no rea­son to lose faith in your ve­hi­cle, but ev­ery Ford cus­tomer can have the as­sur­ance that ev­ery in­di­vid­ual case will be as­sessed on in­di­vid­ual merit.” It wasn’t con­vinc­ing. Dur­ban reader, Rob­bie Moore is one of thou­sands of dis­il­lu­sioned Ford cus­tomers.

“Two months ago I pur­chased a used 2013 model Kuga from a Ford deal­er­ship in Dur­ban. No men­tion was made that this model was a po­ten­tially de­fec­tive ve­hi­cle and that some had caught fire on the road­way.

“Please ad­vise me if, ac­cord­ing to the Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act (CPA), it’s pos­si­ble to de­mand my money back as apart from the risk of driv­ing the ve­hi­cle, the fu­ture re­sale value of the ve­hi­cle is go­ing to take a dive. I have taken it in for the so-called safety check where it was as­cer­tained that it was de­fec­tive. It is await­ing spares.”

Moore bought his car less than six months ago, so even though it’s a 2013 model, the CPA of­fers him some pro­tec­tion, con- sumer lawyer Trudie Broek­mann said.

“The short an­swer is that if the model is ‘haz­ardous’ or ‘un­safe’ as de­fined by the CPA, then the con­sumer can re­turn the ve­hi­cle to Ford within six months of pur­chase and ask for his money back (or a re­place­ment ve­hi­cle). The third op­tion is to ask for/ ac­cept an of­fer from Ford to re­pair the car.

“The ques­tion is whether the par­tic­u­lar ve­hi­cle is haz­ardous or un­safe, as de­fined in sec­tion 53 of the CPA.”

That sec­tion of the act re­quires that goods must be free of de­fects, safe and in good work­ing or­der. But it’s not as sim­ple as re­turn­ing your Kuga to the dealer and ask­ing for your money back.

NCC spokesper­son Trevor Hat­tingh said: “In terms of sec­tion 56 of the act, any prod­uct should be fit for pur­pose for at least six months af­ter pur­chase. This haz­ard is caused by a man­u­fac­tur­ing de­fect. But deal­ers aren’t go­ing to just give you your money back.

“He needs to take it for the re­pair and if that fails – or a sec­ondary fea­ture fails and an­other haz­ard de­vel­ops – then the sup­plier must re­place or re­fund him the price he paid.

“Other­wise, the deal­ers will try to take off mileage and fac­tor in other is­sues. And we know how the re­sale value has plum­meted.”

That loss of value forms part of the class ac­tion suit launched by the Jimmy fam­ily, their lawyer Rod Mon­tano said.

“Part of the dam­ages claims re­lates to the re­sales. The NCC is work­ing with us and will fa­cil­i­tate the claims so con­sumers can con­tact the com­mis­sion.

“Ford is re­call­ing 2012-2014 models; we’ve had com­plaints about turbo diesels 2.5, Fi­gos and Ku­gas from 2015. It’s a lot big­ger than they’re mak­ing it out to be.

“The pre­dom­i­nant cause has been said to be en­gine fires but there have also been elec­tri­cal fires. They were aware of these prob­lems four years ago. The in­sur­ance com­pa­nies have been re­port­ing on this for over a year. If it’s an in­ter­na­tional re­call, why are they not re­call­ing the ve­hi­cles here too?”

As the vic­tim of the 2015 Kuga fire Re­shall Jimmy’s brother, Kaveen, ques­tioned dur­ing their press con­fer­ence: “Are South African lives less im­por­tant?”

Ford re­called only when the NCC pushed it into a cor­ner, Mon­tano said, and now it was try­ing to shift the blame, with Nemeth stat­ing it was a pri­vate mat­ter for the in­sured – but “each claim will be dealt with on a case-by-case ba­sis”.

“Why should South African con­sumers and in­sur­ance com­pa­nies have to pay for their man­u­fac­tur­ing fault?” Mon­tano asked.

The NCC agrees. Hat­tingh said the pro­ducer, im­porter, re­tailer or dis­trib­u­tor of any goods that were likely to cause harm were wholly li­able. But, the con­sumer could choose whether to claim from their in­surer. And they had a right to claim from the man­u­fac­turer in terms of sec­tion 61 (of the CPA) for dam­ages and losses.

Ford SA has a lot to an­swer for in terms of not re­call­ing these cars sooner, poorly man­ag­ing the sit­u­a­tion, claim­ing its man­u­fac­ture in Spain might have been an is­sue be­cause of the cli­mate and try­ing to shift the prob­lem onto in­sur­ance com­pa­nies.

If you had bought your Ford Kuga re­cently, worry about your safety, the re­sale value and whether your car is go­ing to spon­ta­neously com­bust, no “quick” fix is go­ing to ally your fears – nor a brand’s rep­u­ta­tion.

And if your car burnt out, you might want to ap­proach Ford about it: these are its man­u­fac­tur­ing faults, not some­thing our econ­omy should be forced to pay for.

PIC­TURE: WARREN KROG / AP

SPON­TA­NEOUS COM­BUS­TION: The 2013 Ford Kuga owned by Warren Krog burns out in Al­ber­ton, Joburg on Jan­uary 12. Ford is re­call­ing 4 556 Kuga EcoBoost ve­hi­cles.

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