Ford recall could cost $300 million But repairs called a boost to business of local dealers

8.7 million vehicles affected

Ignition switch linked to 1,100 fires in U.S., Canada

April 29, 1996|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,SUN STAFF

Last week's recall of 8.7 million Ford Motor Co. vehicles could cost the automaker $200 million to $300 million, but it could give other businesses an unexpected boost -- namely, Ford's local dealers.

That's because the automaker will pay dealers their standard labor rate for the half-hour repair that needs to be made on a wide variety of 1988-1992 models (and a few 1993s), dealers and the company said. And, if handled correctly, the recall can even be a marketing tool of a sort.

"Most customers whose cars are recalled, if the dealer provides prompt service and everything goes as it should, come out feeling better or at least as good about the company and the dealer," said Ford spokesman Jon F. Harmon, adding that Ford conducted focus-group research on this point after past recalls.

The dealers found out about the recall Wednesday night, before a public announcement Thursday, Mr. Harmon said. He said Ford had planned to disclose the recall somewhat later to allow more time to stock up on replacement parts for the recalled vehicles, but the Detroit Free Press reported the plans and forced Ford to act faster.

The vehicles are being recalled for repairs to an ignition switch made by United Technologies Corp. The defective part has been linked to about 1,100 vehicle fires in the U.S. and Canada. Ford has said it knows of 21 injuries, including two serious ones, and no fatalities related to the switch.

The switch was installed in more than 25 million cars and trucks built between 1984 and October 1992, when a redesigned switch was introduced. But only 1988 and newer mod-els are being recalled.

Models covered by the recall include Ford's popular Escort subcompact, Ford Mustang, the Ford Thunderbird/Mercury +V Cougar series, the Ford Tempo/Mercury Topaz line, trucks such as Ford's Bronco and F-series, Aerostar minivans, and luxury models such as the Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car.

Models not affected by the recall include Ford Taurus, Mercury Sable and Ford Probe.

Ford used the switches in some models throughout the 1988-1992 model years, including some early 1993 units. The switches were used in other models more sporadically. Owners of affected cars will be notified by Ford, or consumers can call (800) 392-FORD to determine whether their cars are subject to recall, Mr. Harmon said.

Ralph Mastantuono, general manager of Koons Ford in Woodlawn, said about one-third of the 3,500 to 4,000 cars the dealership sold annually between 1988 and 1992 used the recalled switch. That could mean as many as 10,000 Koons customers getting a recall notice, he said.

"It's a lot of work, but it will be spread out," over a period of up to 18 months, Mr. Mastantuono said. "We have a large service department, about 35 bays. For the most part, customers are pretty patient."

Jeffrey Davidson, general manager of Bob Davidson Ford in Parkville, said Ford pays dealers for recall repairs in the same way it reimburses them for repairs covered by a car's warranty.

He said the dealership will probably try to speed up the recall repairs by training certain technicians to fix the problem and then devoting them to recall work full-time for as long as it takes.

Mr. Davidson said the problem that most often hinders recall service occurs when the manufacturer cannot get enough replacement parts to dealers. But he said the dealership knew Ford was preparing for the recall, so plenty of parts are expected to be available.

Mr. Harmon said the repair will cost Ford $50 to $100 per car, depending on an individual dealer's labor charges.

He said consumers who have already had the switch replaced at their own expense can get their money back by bringing their recall letter and proof of payment to their dealer.

But for dealers like Mr. Mastantuono, the recall is as much an opportunity as a problem.

"I think it's a little of both," he said, conceding that negative publicity could intimidate some prospective customers. "The positive thing is it shows they stand behind the product."

Pub Date: 4/29/96

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