Ford offers settlements to Kuga owners as consumer commission readies report

The National Consumer Commission will by mid-May go public with its long-awaited investigative report into whether Ford SA and its sister companies are guilty of “prohibited conduct” with respect to the scores of Kuga SUVs that caught fire.

NCC spokesman Trevor Hattingh told TimesLIVE that the report had been completed.

“It’s currently being subjected to an internal process of approving the findings and recommendations‚ and engaging with the subject of the investigation (Ford).”

The NCC agreed to let Ford SA have sight of the draft findings and recommendations before the final approval of the report. Among the allegations probed was that the 2013 and 2014 1.6 petrol-model Kugas were recalled in other markets and then sold in SA.

Ford SA finally recalled 4‚556 of the affected vehicles in January 2017‚ by which time almost 50 of them had had what Ford called “thermal incidents”.

The company revealed that failures in the cars’ coolant system had caused them to overheat and catch alight. It announced a two-phase modification to circumvent that and install a sensor as a coolant loss alert.

Renisha Jimmy‚ whose brother Reshall died when his Kuga caught fire in December 2015‚ helped many Kuga fire victims document complaints‚ which she lodged with the NCC in mid-January.

A Ford SA customer relations manager has this week contacted many of the complainants‚ offering compensation for the financial losses they suffered and sessions with a Ford-appointed therapist.

Nelize Smit is one of them. Her 2014 Kuga caught fire in December 2015 near Villiers towards the end of a drive back from Uvongo on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast.

“I was forced to run from the burning car on a recently broken foot‚ causing serious damage‚” she said.

“At the time‚ I wanted Ford to take responsibility‚ but they weren’t interested‚ so in the end I was forced to claim from my insurance‚” she said.

“I ended up with severe post-traumatic stress and anxiety disorder‚ and I’m still receiving physiotherapy on my damaged foot.”

This week Ford contacted Smit‚ offering to reimburse her for the financial losses she suffered on having to replace her Kuga‚ and for the possessions she lost in the car.

“But they aren’t willing to cover any medical bills‚” Smit said. “They only offered me the services of their trauma counsellor – more than two years after the event.”

Rojene Nicolas of Randpark Ridge‚ whose second-hand Kuga caught fire two weeks after she had bought it in late 2015‚ has also been contacted by Ford SA this week‚ and asked about her financial losses.

“I was forced to claim on my insurance‚ lost my no-claim bonus‚ and my insurance premium has almost doubled‚” she said.

“I reported everything to Ford shortly after the incident‚ and only now they’re asking me about compensation and trauma counselling‚ more than two years later.”

Hattingh said the NCC had embarked on a two-pronged investigation – to gather facts and evidence to prove alleged prohibited conduct by Ford SA‚ and “to facilitate the resolution of individual disputes”.

“In this matter‚ the NCC resolved to first investigate and then afford the supplier an opportunity to attempt to resolve the disputes with individual consumers‚” Hattingh said.

“But Ford’s attempts to resolve the individual disputes do not change the facts and findings we have before us.”

Jimmy said Ford SA did not have to wait for the NCC to give them details of those whose Kugas had caught fire.

“We have proof that they contacted Ford shortly after their accidents‚ going back to late 2015‚” she said.

“They didn’t have to wait for the NCC to give them the complainants’ details before making contact with them.”

Ford SA communications manager Rella Bernardes said the company was duty-bound to contact customers who had “reported problems”‚ and had been doing so to “provide the required support”.

Asked how many had accepted compensation‚ she said: “Any settlements made with customers are strictly confidential. Safety continues to be our priority.”

-TimesLIVE

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