Ford Kugas catching fire have dominated the news this year, with owners lashing out at Ford for its poor handling of the situation.
According to reports, Ford initially dismissed concerns from Kuga owners whose vehicles caught fire.
One of these owners, Reshall Jimmy, died when his Kuga caught fire in December 2015.
Ford waited over a year after the Jimmy incident to recall faulty vehicles, despite nearly 50 of them catching fire during this period.
It took strong words from the National Consumer Commission to essentially force Ford to recall the 4,556 Ford Kuga 1.6-litre models affected in South Africa.
PR disaster for Ford
Forensic investigator David Klatzow described Ford’s handling of the Kuga fires as a “public relations disaster”.
Marketing expert Chris Moerdyk agreed, saying the “burning Ford Kuga issue is not only a PR nightmare, but a demonstration of how badly social media is handled in South Africa”.
“Ford’s PR response has been pitiful and typical of so many car manufacturers who respond to crises by just sitting back and hoping it will all go away.”
Ford Southern Africa CEO Jeff Nemeth explains
Ford Southern Africa CEO and President Jeff Nemeth said the most important thing for Ford South Africa is to get Kuga drivers into their dealerships to replace the parts which may cause problems in the vehicle.
Nemeth spoke to BusinessDay TV about the recall of the Kuga and how the company is managing damage to the brand.
Nemeth said 3,000 Ford Kuga owners have already taken their vehicles to dealerships, which is encouraging.
The CEO said they did not see any escalation in cases of the Kuga catching fire until it got warm in SA towards the end of 2016.
The increased number of cases provided Ford with more data to send to its engineering team to investigate the issue.
He said they were sending information to the engineers as quickly as possible, which will help with a redesign of the vehicle.
Why so long to take action?
Nemeth was asked why it took so long for Ford to issue the safety recall.
“We started seeing this trend in November and December, and we thought we really needed to do something,” said Nemeth.
“We wanted to make sure we get the cars in before the holidays, because these are family cars and we would not like them to drive a car which we have not checked.”
He said Ford will learn from these incidents and it will inform future testing methodology.
“One of the things which probably was not tested sufficiently when the vehicle was designed, was the South African conditions.”
“We really only see this in South Africa, even though this car is sold in other parts of the world.”
He said Ford is evaluating what it is about South Africa that is causing the Kuga fires.
“We have found the root cause of the problem, it is overheating, but we have not identified why it is overheating in South Africa.”
He said Ford knows how to fix the overheating.
Who not just replace the vehicles?
Nemeth was also asked why they decided to fix the Kugas instead of replacing them?
“We are looking at what we have to do going forward to build our customers’ confidence,” he said.
“Right now, the first thing we need to do is to get these things fixed and ensure that they are safe. We are working on what is the best way to satisfy our customers.”