In 1908, Henry Ford invented the motorcar with the laconic assurance that buyers could have it in “any colour as long as it is black”.
A century later, this macho indifference to the customer clearly still permeates the local subsidiary that bears his name.
Ford SA has found itself at the centre of a firestorm over its tardiness in reacting to its Kuga SUV spontaneously self-combusting. There have been 40-50 incidents of Kugas bursting into flames in less than a year, with one death and several narrow escapes.
Ford’s response to this was pathetic, characterised by obfuscation and misrepresentation. It took a year before Ford asked Kuga owners to take their vehicles for a safety inspection. But even then, after dealerships had checked and pronounced a vehicle safe, some were still going up in flames.
It was only this week that Ford issued a recall for the 4 556 1.6-litre Kuga SUVs built between 2012 and 2014. It ascribes the fires to engine overheating, following a coolant circulation failure.
Obviously, this is not good for Ford’s reputation. It is, however, not simply a problem of bad marketing, tin-eared public relations, or cack-handed branding, as has been suggested by the experts.
What it is, is additional evidence of a corporate malaise, of companies so cloaked in arrogance, so disdainful of the “little people” who buy their products and consume their services, that they really couldn’t give a stuff.
There will, of course, be a dip in Ford sales locally, since presumably not many new buyers want a mobile crematorium that unpredictably immolates its occupants. But no matter how much one would like to believe in the idiom that as you sow, so shall you reap, this is likely to be only a momentary setback for Ford.
After all, there are not many alternatives for would-be buyers. The motor industry, world wide, is riddled with corruption and a willingness to dice with the lives of its clients.
Locally, when asked why it had taken so long to issue the recall, Ford SA’s CEO Jeff Nemeth said the company had been trying to understand what was going on.
What arrant rubbish. Nemeth is either a cynical liar or simply too dumb to retain as top honcho of anything more challenging than Honest Jeff’s Pre-owned Cars.
Perhaps Nemeth should have had one of his minions Google the problem. He would discover that the 1.6-litre Kuga is the equivalent model of US Ford’s 1.6-litre Escape, which has been subject to several recalls in recent years, including one in 2012 for the same engine fire problem.
Nemeth’s belated decision to recall the Kuga – appositely for something no one any longer wants to touch, kuga is a Slovenian word for the plague – was not prompted by altruism or ethics. He did so because the National Consumer Commission (NCC) issued Ford with an ultimatum: initiate a “voluntary” safety recall or the NCC would order one.
The NCC should take a bow for intervening firmly. This is a rare victory for the so-called oversight bodies that litter the SA landscape but mostly seem to be too chummy with the entities that they are supposed to control to be of any use.