A spate of flubs by Ford Motor is raising doubt about whether quality still
really is -- as Ford's tagline used to boast -- "Job One."
Ford has won sales and accolades for making over most of its line in just a few years and for new, gas-saving engines, but a string of recalls for its best-selling and newest models has experts saying Ford may have tried too much. "They perhaps have more than they can chew," says Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for Consumer Reportsmagazine.
On Tuesday, there were two more, albeit small, recalls. Ford said it will hunt down 20 Fusion sedans to see if they were built with a missing retaining clip on steering systems, without which drivers could lose control. Ford also will recall 107 of its new Lincoln MKZ sedans equipped with engine-block heaters with wires that can fray, creating a shock hazard.
Last month, Ford recalled 500 new MKZs over engine insulation issues. Fusion was the subject of two large recalls last year, one for coolant system leaks and one about headlights.
--Ford said last week it is recalling 465,000 of various models for fire risk from gas tanks that can leak.
--Federal safety regulators this month opened an investigation into EcoBoost V-6 engines on about 400,000 2011 to 2013 F-150 pickups after 95 complaints of stumbling or stalling under acceleration. An owner lawsuit claims the same problem in the truck and in other Ford vehicles with the engine, including Flex, Taurus SHO and Lincoln MKT.
--A recall last year lassoed 89,153 of the redesigned 2013 Fusion sedans and Escape crossovers for 1.6-liter EcoBoost engines that could overheat, leading to fires. The risk was deemed so serious that owners were advised to park their vehicles.
--The new Escape was recalled three times soon after launch last summer for misplaced carpet padding that could jam a pedal, a fuel-line fire risk and faulty child locks.
Ford officials say they don't see a pattern. Spokeswoman Kelli Felker says issues are dealt with "quickly and aggressively" as they surface.
And Jim Hall, analyst for 2953 Analytics, says repeated recalls can be deceiving. Automakers have fine-tuned the ability to find patterns in complaints and are doing more recalls or fixes, but often for fewer vehicles.
Buyers seem nonplussed. Ford sales rose 14.1% in May, more than General Motors' or Chrysler Group's, Autodata reports. But automakers know that quality issues can nibble away at consumers over time.
Ford and Lincoln brand vehicles ranked below average on J.D. Power and Associates' 2012 Initial Quality Study of owner experience in the first 90 days. The 2013 study is not out yet, but on Power's longer-term study on defects after three years, both did better: Lincoln was a good seventh among brands, and Ford was about at the industry average.
Although Consumer Reports has knocked Ford for EcoBoost engines "underperforming" on gas mileage and for distracting infotainment controls, Fisher says it's normal to work out bugs after so many new models. "When you change so many things at the same time, it's always expected that quality is going to suffer. They are going to work out the issues."
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