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Ford's New Explorer Hits a Bump

Autos: Company rushes to fix defect with rear lift-gate glass in thousands of the SUVs and its Mercury twin.

April 11, 2001|JIM SUHR | ASSOCIATED PRESS

DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. is warning dealers and customers of a defect in the rear lift-gate on some 2002 Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer sport-utility vehicles, dashing the car maker's hopes for a flawless launch of the redesigned models.

Ford said Tuesday that the rear lift-gate glass on some new Explorers and Mountaineers may shatter or detach when shut. The world's second-largest auto maker said it has received 35 complaints about the problem, which occurs when brackets holding the lift-gate glass come loose.

Of 56,652 affected Explorers and Mountaineers built between early February and March 30 at Ford plants in Kentucky and Missouri, 12,669 already have been sold, Ford spokesman Mike Vaughn said.

In a bulletin sent Friday, Ford told dealers to call affected owners and explain the situation, using a script Ford has supplied.

"We had some reports and we moved swiftly," Vaughn said, noting that most of the affected SUVs still are on dealer lots.

At Ford's expense, dealers will pick up the affected vehicles, provide a loaner vehicle and make the repair, then wash, vacuum and return the SUVs to customers with a full tank of gas.

"We want to have this inspection as quickly as possible to ensure customer satisfaction," Vaughn said. "We thought this would be preferable to sending letters" to customers.

The Ford Explorer has been the nation's top-selling SUV for 11 straight years, with a record 445,157 of them sold last year despite publicity over the Firestone tire recall. Federal safety officials have linked 174 U.S. deaths and more than 700 injuries to faulty Firestone tires, many installed as original equipment on Explorers in the past.

Since the recall, Ford has let customers choose other brands of tires besides Firestone on 2002 Explorers and Mountaineers.

Ford spent months scouring new Explorers for any defects before putting them on sale last month, hoping to avoid a repeat of recent, recall-troubled vehicle launches.

Intent on mending the Explorer's image, Ford has built into the 2002 model such safety features as air cushions along the windows that inflate in a rollover to prevent occupants from being ejected. The updated Explorer is also 2 1/2 inches wider and has a 2-inch-longer wheelbase than the 2001 model, presumably lessening the risk of rollover.

The new Explorer also has an independent rear suspension for a less truck-like ride, and a third row of seats.

"The Explorer launch is pretty key to Ford," Al Giombetti, Ford's group marketing manager for SUVs and trucks, said last month. "We are in a battle and we need to be at the best of our game at all times."

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