The launch of Ford Motor Co.’s hot-selling new 2013 Escape has been dinged by a second recall in a week. The latest recall, announced Thursday, is for a faulty fuel line in some models that could split and leak gasoline, causing an underhood fire.
Industry analysts, who gave credit to Ford for quick response to the problem, say the news could hurt sales only a month after the midsize SUV hit dealer lots.
Ford said it is recalling 11,500 2013 Escapes with the 1.6-liter engine to replace the fuel lines. Ford took the unusual step of urging owners to immediately stop driving the vehicles. Escapes equipped with 2.0-liter and 2.5-liter engines are not part of the recall.
Thursday’s recall follows one announced Saturday, when Ford said it was calling back more than 10,000 2013 Escapes because incorrectly positioned carpet padding may interfere with braking.
A former automotive executive says the latest recall will be tough to overcome, especially considering the safety concerns and the importance the Escape represents to Ford in its marketing plan for the midsize class.
“Stopping sale for even one day is something a manufacturer never wants to do,” said Larry Dominique, executive vice president of TrueCar.com and former vice president of advanced and product planning and strategy for Nissan North America. Dominique dealt with a similar launch-and-recall issue with the Nissan Titan.
“It really dampens the momentum for that launch,” he said. “It’s tough to recover from that.”
Ford is advising affected owners not to drive their vehicles and to contact dealers immediately for the repair, which involves replacing the fuel line.
“Our intensive investigation and testing has identified the area of concern, and we are moving as quickly as possible to repair vehicles for our customers,” said Ray Nevi, assistant director of Ford’s Automotive Safety Office in a statement. “In the meantime, it is extremely important that affected customers not ignore this recall and immediately contact their dealer.”
Dealers will deliver loaner vehicles to customers and transport their Escapes to dealerships.
New customers at risk
The redesigned Escape went on sale in June and is a key vehicle for the Dearborn automaker. Ford sold about 11,000 new Escapes in June, comprising about 40 percent of the company’s 28,500 total Escape sales as dealers clear out 2012 models.
And the 2013 models are spending little time on lots before they’re purchased. New Escapes are sold in an average of 41/2 days, leaving about a 30-day inventory for the new model. Ford plans to add a third shift in Kentucky by September to meet demand.
The Escape was the best-selling SUV in 2011 and has consistently ranked first or second in SUV sales since 2006.
Dominique said loyal Escape customers likely will give the Dearborn automaker the benefit of the doubt. But he said it could be “very hard” to attract potential new consumers, which is particularly stinging for such a high-volume automobile.
The Dearborn automaker said three fires have been reported since June 9, including two being driven by employees at its Louisville Assembly plant and one by an owner in Canada. No injuries have been reported.
After the third fire on July 11 at the plant, Ford halted shipments of Escapes with the 1.6-liter engine until it discovered the cause.
Because fires were reported when vehicles were running, Ford doesn’t believe owners are at risk if they’re stored in garages.
Ford dealers will stop delivering or conducting demonstration drives until the issue is resolved.
The recall covers 9,300 vehicles in the United States and 2,200 in Canada. Of the vehicles being recalled, 4,800 have been purchased.
Other probes ongoing
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spokeswoman Lynda Tran said the agency is “unaware of any deaths or injuries associated with this issue. The agency will continue to monitor the concern moving forward and will take appropriate action as warranted.”
Asked about the supplier of the fuel line, Ford spokeswoman Marcey Zwiebel said the automaker does not comment on suppliers in recall situations.
In Saturday’s recall, Ford said 8,266 Escapes in the United States and 2,193 in Canada need to be repaired. Ford dealers will remove carpet padding and replace a console trim panel so it doesn’t interfere with braking.
Ford said the issue could increase braking distance but says it has no reports of the problem happening with customers.
In addition, on Tuesday the NHTSA opened an investigation into 730,000 2001-04 Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute SUVs for possible unintended acceleration, after an Arizona crash in which a 17-year-old died in January.
That investigation is a result of repairs done because of a recall in December 2004, when Ford called back 470,000 2002-04 Escapes because of an accelerator cable assembly defect that could cause the throttle to stick.
Ford sent dealers an updated repair procedure in October 2005, with updated illustrations and a warning to help prevent damage to the speed control cable while replacing the accelerator cable. Mazda did not issue a similar notice.
But by that time, nearly 320,000 Escapes from the 2002-04 model years already were fixed, and their owners never were informed of the updated procedure.
The latest Escape-related recalls could put a damper on the brand’s name depending on how quickly Ford can resolve quality issues.
“It is going to be an issue in terms of painting the name,” said Edmunds.com senior analyst Michelle Krebs of the Escape’s recalls. “(Ford) just needs to be extremely up front and bend over backwards to help consumers to nip this in the bud.”