Irate Kuga owners still await answers as probe deepens into Ford

Ford Kuga fire victims are furious with the National Consumer Commission over the silence around its investigation into the global car manufacturer.

But‚ says the commission‚ the silence is to ensure that the investigation is thorough and that Ford does not get away with any possible infringements.

Between January and February‚ irate Kuga owners approached the commission with complaints about the spontaneous combustion of their vehicles.

Since December 2015 and May this year‚ 58 Kugas have caught alight in South Africa‚ forcing Ford to announce a safety recall of 4‚556 of its 1.6l Kuga models.

The recall‚ which saw the replacement of the vehicle’s coolant system‚ was also announced in New Zealand and Australia.

Ford announced the fires were caused by a faulty coolant system‚ but its explanation and own internal inquiry saw the commission launch an investigation into the company.

Since announcing the investigation‚ in which the commission told affected consumers that it would report back to them within 60 days‚ more Kugas have caught on fire.

At least three of those which caught fire between April and May underwent repairs to their coolant systems.

Reshall Jimmy was killed when his Kuga caught alight while on holiday in the Wilderness in the Western Cape in December 2015.

While Ford claims his death – which is under police investigation – was not related to the coolant system fires‚ his family believe the fires are also caused by faulty electrical systems.

Jimmy’s sister‚ Renisha Jimmy‚ said the commission was the family’s only hope. “All we want is closure. The NCC is the only hope we have to getting justice for Reshall.

“We really hope that they are taking the investigation seriously and that there is a resolution soon for all Kuga fire victims.”

Sean Thompson‚ whose 1.5l Kuga caught alight‚ said he was at his wits end. “In response to my initial letter of complaint the commission said the investigation would take 60 working days. I complained in January. Taking all the public holidays into account‚ that timeframe has passed.”

He said when Kuga fire victims made enquiries with the commission‚ they got no response. “Everyone gets told the same thing by the commission‚ that the matter is sensitive.

“You don’t tell a victim they will have feedback and then clam up. We were promised regular updates but have been told nothing.”

He said people’s fears were that Ford SA CEO Jeffery Nemeth would leave South Africa – after the company announced his recall earlier this year – before the outcome of the investigation.

“What happens then? How will he be brought back to South Africa?”

Stephan van Heerden said he had been told his complaint would be addressed by the head of the commission’s investigation team. “I am still waiting for her to respond to my multiple emails. All we want to know is what is going on.”

Commission spokesman‚ Trevor Hattingh‚ said the investigation was ongoing. “There is clearly a misinterpretation by consumers of the acknowledgement letter the commission sent out to their complaints. The timeframe of 60 days was for the assessment of consumers complaints.”

He said the commission prioritised the complaints‚ did a thorough assessment and decided to institute an investigation into Ford’s conduct. “We are still gathering information. We sent detailed questions to Ford‚ requesting evidence to substantiate their responses.”

He said Ford had appointed a lawyer to respond to the commission’s questions. “The undertaking by Ford to respond was mid-May.”

Hattingh urged consumers to give the commission the space and time to conduct a thorough investigation. “People must understand that evidence from multiple parties linked to Ford‚ other than Ford SA itself‚ is being sourced. This takes time.

“We are doing this to ensure the investigation is watertight. While we can’t divulge the exact status and nature of the investigation‚ for fear of jeopardising it‚ we will provide a generic update later (on Thursday).”

He said the completion of the investigation would depend on Ford’s responses. “We could have further questions and requests for more evidence. It all depends.”

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