Recall all that pre-launch marketing that Ford so carefullly laid for the 2013 Escape? The branded entertainment experiment that was the Escape Routes prime-time TV series on NBC; the Spanish-language TV commercial during the NBA Finals featuring the Miami Heat; and, in its latest promotional stunt, measuring the model's interior in ping-pong balls (56,778, in case you were wondering).
Well, Ford may need all of the interest and goodwill generated by those marketing gambits, and a lot more, to get past the fact that the automaker just announced the second recall in as many weeks for the crucial new version of its venerable SUV. It also raises the issue that when it comes to brand recalls, customers do recall recalls, as Toyota found out the hard way.
Ford today said in a press release that is "acting quickly" and will recall 11,500 of the newly redesigned, just-introduced model to replace a fuel line that could split, leak gasoline and set the vehicle on fire. The company also took an unusual precaution of warning owners of 2013 EcoBoost Escapes not to drive their shiny new vehicles and to contact their Ford dealers immediately, and also alerted customers to the alert via Facebook and Twitter.
Last week, Ford recalled more than 10,000 units of the vehicle to fix a carpet issue that could give drivers a problem reaching the brake pedal, compounding safety concerns for the brand raised by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over unintended acceleration in older models of the Escape.
While a total recall of fewer than 22,000 vehicles is not a disaster purely numbers-wise, Ford clearly is taking the pair of actions very seriously because these vehicles comprise a huge portion, if not all, of the slowly building output of the 2013 Escape so far.
Marcey Zwiebel, a Ford spokeswoman, commented to the New York Times "that the automaker was aware of three fires attributable to the problem, two of which happened before the vehicles were shipped to dealers. The automaker was not aware of any injuries, she added."
The Times noted that issuing a press release "was also an unusual step for Ford, one of the few automakers that typically does not issue releases about recalls. Instead, its policy has been to respond to questions after the recalls were posted on the website of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration."
While Ford hasn't halted production, USA Today confirmed that the automaker is taking the additional precaution of not only asking owners to stop driving the model in question, but it's also banning test drives by potential buyers: "Ford has instructed its dealers not to allow test drives of the new Escape if it has the 1.6-liter engine, or to deliver ones that have been bought to customers, until they undergo recall repairs."
No matter how early it's caught or in how few vehicles, fuel leaks present a strong concern. "Gasoline leaks are nothing to mess around with," Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing for Edmunds.com, told brandchannel. "And if the gas is leaking under the hood there's even more danger because of all the heat sources that are under there."
Indeed, at least three fires have been reported from the problem, Ford said, though no injuries. Ford said there is no danger of fire as long as the engine in the vehicle isn't running.
Still, this is a black eye to Ford's high hopes for Escape. The launch is one of the two most important vehicle introductions for Ford this year, along with the new Ford Fusion mid-size sedan that also is trickling into the pipeline. The last thing Ford wants is for the carefully nurtured anticipation for Escape to be obscured by consumers' safety concerns.
Recalls, and especially recalls not effectively and swiftly addressed by management, can be nightmarish, of course.
Toyota essentially "lost" 2010 in the wake of its massive unintended-acceleration recall and uneasy collaboration with U.S. safety regulators in its wake. And the recall of nearly a half-million Chevrolet Cruzes late last month may be one factor that has knocked down demand for what is a very important vehicle for GM in a hotly competitive segment.
"It is critically important that [Ford] addresses the problem quickly and properly," said Edmunds.com's Michelle Krebs, a senior U.S. industry analyst. "That's what it appears to be doing."