U.S. steps up inquiry of Ford Focus fuel system

WASHINGTON November 6, 2002; Dan Hart writing for Bloomberg reported that Ford Motor Co.'s Focus small car, the subject of 11 recalls and six U.S. defect investigations, is the focus of a stepped-up inquiry of fuel-system contamination that can cause stalling, a U.S. agency said.

Fuel systems on 2000 through 2002 models of the Focus can clog because of contamination in a plastic fuel tank, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a monthly defect report. The agency said it received 3,475 complaints about the problem involving about 18 crashes and four injuries.

The move affects about 573,585 Focus cars from 2000 and 2001, and the number of 2002 models wasn't immediately available, NHTSA said. The agency upgraded the investigation, which began Sept. 9, to an engineering analysis. The inquiry may lead to a recall or a finding of no defect.

The world's second-largest automaker said it's cooperating with NHTSA. Ford yesterday recalled 572,795 Focus models to repair a front-suspension bolt that may be loose and, on some of the cars, to fix a battery cable. The automaker said it wanted to improve the quality and image of the Focus, which leads its car sales worldwide and is second to the Taurus in the U.S.

The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker began selling the Focus in 1999.

NHTSA also upgraded another of its Focus investigations, involving the possibility that the front suspensions might collapse or the wheels might separate. That problem was addressed by yesterday's recall, Ford spokesman Todd Nissen said.

One of the six Focus inquiries has been closed without finding a defect, NHTSA spokesman Tim Hurd said. The agency on Sept. 18 ended a preliminary investigation into complaints that air bags from the 2000 and 2001 model years inflate for no reason or in very-low speed collisions. That probe began Feb. 28.

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The agency also said it began an engineering analysis into complaints that a speed-control switch on Ford's 1992 through 1997 Lincoln Town Car, Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis large sedans can overheat and may result in fires. About 1.89 million vehicles may be affected. NHTSA said it received 47 complaints after the automaker recalled about 279,000 1992-1993 models for the problem.

NHTSA began an investigation that may affect about 1.35 million of General Motors Corp.'s 2000 and 2001 cars and pickup trucks. The agency is looking into whether a fuel-system part might cause the vehicles' engines to balk or stall. NHTSA said it received 51 complaints about the vehicles, which include Chevrolet Cavalier and Malibu cars and S-10 pickups; Pontiac Sunfire and Grand Am cars; Oldsmobile Alero cars; and GMC Sonoma pickups.

The agency also is investigating complaints that fuel gauges on the same models may show that the tank is a quarter to half full when it actually is almost empty. NHTSA said that it received 338 complaints involving three crashes and three injuries, and that about 1.55 million cars may be affected.

The largest automaker is cooperating with the agency on the investigations, General Motors spokesman Jim Schell said.

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