Ford warns of shattering rear glass in new Explorers

Tuesday, April 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DETROIT (AP) _ Ford Motor Co. is warning dealers and customers of a defect in the rear liftgate on some 2002-model Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer sport utility vehicles, dashing the carmaker's hopes for a flawless launch of the latest version of the Explorer.

The world's second-largest automaker said Tuesday that the rear liftgate glass on certain new Explorers and Mountaineers may shatter or detach when shut. Ford has fielded 35 complaints about the problem, which occurs when brackets holding the liftgate glass loosen.

Of 56,652 affected Explorers and Mountaineers built from early February to 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 affected SUVs to customers with a full tank of gas _ all what Vaughn called ``special handling steps.''

``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.

Jerry Reynolds, chairman of Ford's national dealer council and owner of Prestige Ford in Garland, Texas, told The Detroit News that ``I'm glad they are reacting this way,'' citing the Explorer launch's importance to the automaker and dealers. Reynolds could not immediately be reached Tuesday.

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

Since the recall, Ford has let dealers choose either Firestone or non-Firestone tires on 2002 Explorers and Mercury Mountaineers.

``Our reputation is the most precious asset we manage,'' Ford chairman William Clay Ford Jr. said Monday at a Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. global automotive seminar. ``After last year's Firestone tire recall, everyone at (Ford) has a very clear understanding of the downside risks to reputation, and what they can do to you.''

Ford spent months scouring new Explorers for any defects before putting them on sale last month, hoping to avoid repeats of recent, recall-troubled launches of Ford's Focus subcompact and small SUV, the Escape.

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 rollovers to prevent occupants from being ejected. The updated Explorers also are 2 1/2 inches wider with wheelbases 2 inches longer than 2001 models, presumably lessening rollover potential.

The new Explorers also have 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.''