Letter to William Clay Ford, Jr. from Ralph Nader

The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

September 7, 2005

William Clay Ford, Jr.
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer
Ford Motor Company
1 American Road
Dearborn, MI 48126

Dear Mr. Ford:

As you are aware, an ongoing defect investigation of Ford Motor Company
trucks and SUVs is being undertaken by the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration due to high rates of speed control deactivation
switch (SCDS) failure and related engine compartment fire.

This is not the first time Ford vehicles have been the subject of a
fire-related defect investigation. In fact, Ford Motor Company seems to
regularly manufacture vehicles that demonstrate a disturbing tendency to
ignite-whether in operation or not. The 1971-76 Pinto. The 1983-87
E-series van. The 1991-93 F-series truck.  All were recalled because of
the life-threatening fire risk they posed to person and property. In
2002, the Center for Auto Safety identified 16 fuel fed fire recalls by
Ford and noted that Ford repeatedly designed in these hazards time and
time again. The 2002 CAS letter is attached.

But Ford Motor Company does not learn from these engineering mistakes.

In fact the same SCDS currently being investigated by NHTSA (NHTSA
Action Number EA05005) is the very same component that was the cause of
the fire-related recall of the 1992-93 Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand
Marquis and Lincoln Town Car (NHTSA ID 99V124000).  Unfortunately, Ford
continued to manufacture other vehicles with this switch following the
recall of these cars.

This decision has come back to haunt the company. On January 27, 2005,
Ford alerted NHTSA that it would recall certain model year 2000 F-150,
Expedition and Lincoln Navigators and certain model year 2001 F-150
Supercrew trucks due to speed control deactivation switch failure.
These trucks are a fraction of the 3.7 million vehicles being
investigated by NHTSA right now-and all have the same switch that was
the subject of the earlier SCDS recall.

And so this switch has now twice resulted in a major recall campaign.
The symptoms and failure mode are the same: a resistive short develops
in the electrical SCDS which impairs cruise control function and/or the
brake lights. Subsequently the part may smolder, burn and ultimately
ignite volatile brake fluid within the engine compartment.

Reports of the damage caused by SCDS failure are devastating, often
resulting in the total incineration of the vehicle and sometimes nearby
structures as well. More ominous than the destruction, however, may be
the indiscriminate timing of the fires, which can occur even when the
engine has been off for minutes, hours, or days–because Ford engineered
these switches to be powered at all times.

NHTSA recently offered its own assessment of the danger associated with
SCDS failure in an email to CNN: "Any Ford owner experiencing problems
related to the cruise control switch should get the problem repaired at
a Ford dealer, and until you do, NHTSA now tells Ford owners, do not
park your vehicle in your garage."

NHTSA’s advice is pertinent to far more Ford owners than the 3.7 million
who own F-150’s, Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators being investigated
by the agency. According to CNN, Ford has acknowledged using the same
or similar switch in 16 million vehicles.  The attached document, Speed
Control Strategies, was submitted by Ford to NHTSA and identifies
numerous model vehicles that are designed with SCDS configurations
identical to the already recalled 1992-93 Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand
Marquis, Lincoln Town Car and the 2000 F-150, Expedition and Lincoln
Navigator.  As acknowledged by your company, millions of vehicles with
these switches are on the road.

How much longer will you allow this $20 part to imperil the public?

At this juncture, following hundreds of complaints and two recalls, it
behooves Ford to remove all such parts from the fleet. I strongly urge
you to immediately recall every vehicle manufactured with speed control
deactivation switches designed and configured similarly to the ones
responsible for the 1992-93 Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis and Town Car
recall as well as the 2000 F-150, Expedition, Navigator and 2001 F-150
Supercrew recall.

Such action by Ford Motor Company will demonstrate thoughtful regard for
public safety. Indeed, it might signal a change of course for the 102
year-old corporation, which has for over three decades shown a peculiar
disinterest in fire-proofing certain segments of its vehicles.


Ralph Nader