National Consumer Commissioner Ebrahim Mohamed and Ford South Africa CEO Jeffrey Nemeth announced the safety recall at a media conference in Pretoria on Monday.
Mohamed said the safety recall was is in the best interests of consumers and added that it was regrettable that motorist Reshall Jimmy had lost his life in December 2015.
“This issue has dragged on for too long‚” he said.
Nemeth personally apologised for the fear that the burning vehicles had instilled in consumers. He confirmed that 4‚556 vehicles – with 1.6 litre engines manufactured between 2012 and 2014 – are affected by the safety recall.
Investigations had revealed that the fires were caused by overheating which led to engine cylinder heads cracking and oil leaking. Recalled vehicles will be subjected to a software update and a check on the cylinder head‚ he said.
Nemeth acknowledged that there may be part shortages and said that affected owners would be provided with courtesy cars.
“We understand customers concerns and will reassure these concerns and will work with dealers to ensure each case is treated fairly‚” he said.
He offered his condolences to the Jimmy family and added that while the investigation into that incident had not yet been concluded‚ Ford was of the view that it was a unique case unrelated to an engine fire.
The safety recall comes after a high level meeting was held on Friday between senior Ford executives and National Consumer Commission lawyers.
In December‚ after an expose by The Times‚ the commission summoned Ford’s top management to appear before it to explain what the company was doing to investigate and stop the fires.
Ford was given until February 28 to complete its investigation and report back to the commission.
For months Ford has been under intense pressure over its Kuga‚ with customers asking why the vehicle manufacturer has not recalled the car.
To date 48 Kugas have caught alight in South Africa‚ 11 of them this month. Jimmy died in December 2015 when he was trapped in his burning Kuga while on holiday in the Wilderness‚ in the Western Cape.
Since then his family have been fighting a bitter war with Ford to get the company to take responsibility for his death.
While Ford claims that Jimmy’s car caught alight in the rear‚ the family through private forensic and fire investigators‚ have established that the fire started with the car’s electronic wiring system behind the dashboard on the passenger side of the vehicle.
Police‚ and Jimmy’s insurance company’s forensic investigators‚ came to the same conclusion as those made by fire experts hired by the Jimmy family.
The Jimmy family through their lawyer‚ Rod Montano‚ handed over dozens of complaints from Kuga owners whose vehicles have caught fire to the National Consumer Commission.
The handover is part of the start of a class action against Ford‚ which the family is driving.
The Times reported that since 2014‚ Ford has known of the Kuga’s potentially deadly safety flaw‚ but have done nothing to address the matter.
The company was informed over the past two years by various insurance companies about the flaws through investigations by their forensic investigators.
Meanwhile, more than 60,000 Ford cars in Australia may be the subject of a new class action because of a transmission that lawyers claim is “unsafe to drive”, additional reporting by Sydney Morweng, news editor.
Ford’s twin-clutch automatic — a similar design to those used in Volkswagens — is fitted to its Fiesta hatchback, Focus small car and Ecosport SUV.
According to Bannister Law, which is proposing the class action, the transmission is “defective” because it “slips, bucks, jerks, and harshly engages when driven”.
The proposed action only includes Fiesta, Focus and Ecosport models made from 2011 to 2014, even though two of the three cars on sale today continue with the same transmission.
Bannister Law, which is proposing the class action, claims the transmission is “defective” in the Ford Fiesta.
Ford replaced the transmission in the Focus to a regular automatic with an update introduced last year.
“Customers who’ve contacted us believe there is clearly a problem with this particular gearbox, some people have returned to dealerships to get their cars fixed up to 10 times for repair or replacement, while others are being asked to sign confidentiality agreements in order to get a refund,” said Charles Bannister, the principal of Bannister Law.
“We believe these faults constitute major defects and trigger a full refund under Australian Consumer Law.”
A statement from Bannister Law says: “Some consumers are concerned that, as a result of their experiences on the road, their vehicles are unsafe to drive”.
The proposed class action includes the Ford Focus.
The law firm says it will start the class action “should Ford not agree to compensate customers appropriately”.
A statement from Ford Australia said: “Ford is committed to providing its customers with top quality vehicles. We are equally committed to addressing potential issues and responding quickly for our customers”.
The car maker said it has “addressed the majority of our customers’ questions and are pleased with our ongoing improvement in customer satisfaction levels”.
A Ford representative said Ford’s “PowerShift” transmission uses an “advanced configuration that provides exceptional powertrain efficiency, along with the potential for unique shift feel compared with conventional automatics”.