In July, Supply Chain Matters called attention to A Changing Collection of Supply Chain Related Business Challenges Facing Ford Motor Company. Of particular note was a product recall involving 11,500 brand new 2013 Ford Escape vehicles equipped with the 1.6 liter engine because of a serious potential for a fuel leak. Ford took the unusual measure of instructing owners to stop driving their vehicles altogether and make arrangements to have their recalled vehicles transported to local dealers for repair. In its press release announcing the July recall, Ford indicated the need to replace an engine compartment fuel line that could potentially result in a fire. It further noted that dealers were instructed to stop demonstrating or delivering the new Escape model to customers until the problem was corrected.

Ford had issued an additional recall concerning 8,266 redesigned 2013 Escape SUVs in the U.S. to fix carpet padding that could hinder proper braking. Ford indicated that wrongly positioned carpet padding could reduce space around the pedals and cause drivers to hit the side of the brake pedal when switching from the accelerator.  The 2013 Ford Escape was totally redesigned for 2013 to leverage Ford’s global single platform strategy, and represented one of the two critical product launches planned for 2012.

Now comes word that last week, Ford had to issue a series of two other recalls within a week regarding its newly launched Ford Fusion sedan. Ford recalled about 19,000 2013 Fusion sedans to replace headlights because of a defect that could cause them to become blurry.  Ford indicated that the coating on the polycarbonate lamp may not have been cured properly in manufacturing. The recall was described by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as a violation of Federal guidelines related to visibility.  Ford also recalled 19,000 Fusion SE and SEL models, and 73,230 separate Escape models equipped with the 1.6 liter engine because of guess what- the threat of engine fires.  According to today’s update printed in The Wall Street Journal, Ford has disclosed that the problem is linked to 13 separate reported engine fires in certain 2013 Fusion and Escape models.

Ford is not the only automotive OEM to experience notable product glitches in new model platforms. In October, Supply Chain Matters called attention to a recent increase in product recalls involving newly released models of highly anticipated automobiles including the 2013 Nissan Altima and the 2012/2013 Hyundai Sonata, and the recently re-designed Honda Civic.

As noted in October, any new product has an initial period where certain undiscovered flaws can initially appear.  Product teams anticipate these circumstances and compensate with added inspections and checks.  With so much written about the maturity and deeper collaboration of new product introduction processes, we can all wonder why the frequency of product recall incidents involving re-designed products continues.  There are considerations for common component parts utilized across all product platforms, newer and older.  There are considerations related to the global platform strategy itself, magnifying the impact of a quality or product design flaw.  The increasing use of more sophisticated on-board electronics certainly adds a new dimension, coupled with the burden of component product innovation transferred to supplier responsibility.

For Ford, it may be a more acute problem that can effect perceptions of brand and model image. Previous product defect incidents involving fires have led to considerable image problems, not to mention Toyota’s two year challenges with unintended vehicle acceleration with suspicions of sticking accelerators and misaligned floor mats.

Open questions remain on the integrity of quality monitoring processes for both new global platforms as well as existing vehicles.

Bob Ferrari