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LISTEN: The Kuga Catastrophe - Ford’s still putting out fires

No more of those fire hazard 1.6 Ford Kuga models which were part of the recall Ford announced on January 16 have caught fire since then.

Ford Kuga on flames
Photo supplied

Listen to Wendy's on-air segment or read the full story below the podcast.

But the story is far from over. We are now hearing of a handful of such Kuga fires in Australia and New Zealand, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that story is just beginning. South Africa’s recall has involved getting all those 4556 affected Kugas in to dealerships to replace components of their cooling system and check that the cylinder head hasn't cracked.

It was announced at the National Consumer Commission’s insistence, after almost 50 Kugas had caught fire, and the thing is, Ford didn’t have enough replacement parts at the time, and still doesn’t.

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I’ve heard from many affected owners who are still driving courtesy cars provided by Ford SA - many of them rentals, while their Ford dealership awaits parts. 

Many have completely lost faith in the Ford brand and just want to get rid of their cars, but naturally they’re not being offered much by non-Ford dealers, and even the claimed “trade-in assistance” hasn’t matched the “book” value which the industry is supposed to be guided by, in many instances.

Trading in a Ford Kuga 

That book is Transunion’s Auto Dealer’s Guide, which comes up with trade-in and retail prices for cars based on 60 000 records of actual purchases and sales from around 1 100 dealers across the country every month. Interesting, Transunion spokesman Michelle van Renen told me that looking at the data going back three months, there was no huge variation to the trade-in price.

“The only assumption we can make is that customers are not trading in those vehicles, but customers are getting them repaired and holding onto them,” she said.

Consumers can log into that Transunion guide to find out what they can expect as a trade-in for their cars, and when Umhlanga -based owner Justin Bodill did that exercise for his 2014 model 1.6 Kuga, the trade-in value was R230 000. But a non-Ford dealer offered him just R190 000, and despite asking his Ford dealership five times in the past two weeks, he can’t get a trade-in value out of them.

LISTEN: Wendy's take on 'Kugas on fire'

“I’m not interested in buying another Ford: firstly there isn’t another car in the range that appeals to me but more so, because of their complete lack of care and efficiency in dealing with this. The fact that it took so many cars to go up in flames before we even heard anything - I have just completely have lost faith in the brand. And now they tell us we must check the engine hoses, the coolant system levels, etcetera - we’re all constantly on edge.."

Ford has had Bodill's Kuga, awaiting parts for that recall repair, for two and a half weeks, and he’s been driving a little Ford Figo, courtesy of Ford, around since then. 

Last week, Ford SA CEO Jeff Nemeth said the second stage of the recall would involve improving the cooling system to make it more “robust”, but Justin says that no-one at his dealership could tell him anything about what the second phase entailed or when it was going to happen. So that’s not filling him with confidence, either.

“Even though this issue has received a lot of media attention, I don’t think people realise how desperate and stuck we feel. We are sitting with a car that we don’t trust and that we can’t sell for a decent price, and I don’t think we as consumers should be stuck with that problem,” he said.

The 1.6-litre Kuga which has been recalled is no longer on sale as a new car - it hasn’t been since late 2014 when it was replaced by the 1.5-litre model. Even so, sales of all the current models have dropped dramatically since reports of the Kuga fires hit the media from early December. Only 74 were sold in January, compared to 146 in December - a 50% drop. 

And Kuga sales for the five months before that were significantly higher - 199 in November, 174 in October, 154 in September, 206 in August and 204 in July.

Can Ford be trusted?

Sarina de Beer, MD of Ask Africa, which has since 2001 produced the Orange Index, the largest and most widely-referenced service excellence benchmark in South Africa, said Ford SA’s biggest immediate challenge was regaining consumer trust.

“In their communication they are largely focussing on logical explanations, bypassing the emotional connection that is so important to the consumer,” she said.

It’s one thing to say “we care about our customers”; what’s needed is for that to translate into action, De Beer said.

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And honouring book price for trade-ins is a good start. Of course, non-Ford dealerships don’t have to consider the Kuga owner’s loss at all. I called a dealership of another brand yesterday, posing as a 1.6 Kuga owner and asking if they’d offer me a trade-in.

Yes, I was told, they’d consider it, but I wouldn’t get much. “Maybe you should hold onto your Kuga until the stink blows over,” he said.

Sadly, I think the stink is going to hang around for quite some time.

*So how do you find out what the trade is guided by in terms of trade-in and retail prices of a car?

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