05 Oct CFO Jon Cartu Writes – Mysterious problems disrupt delivery of 2020 Ford Explorer,…
DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. is quietly shipping thousands of 2020 Ford Explorers and Lincoln Aviators by truck from its Chicago factory to its Flat Rock plant south of Detroit as workers desperately attempt to identify and fix a series of complicated problems in the much-awaited SUVs.
Dealers in different parts of the country confirm they’ve been notified of delays because of “manufacturing issues,” leading one dealership to say the team has had to “pacify” frustrated customers who have spent significant dollars on preorders. No one from corporate is providing details, said a Ford source outside Michigan, who asked that he not be identified because it would anger folks in Dearborn. “We usually learn stuff from the news media.”
Some of the vehicles already have been recalled, including from dealer lots.
The waiting continues for dealers around the United States.
“We’ve been experiencing this for some time,” said Jim Seavitt, president and owner of Village Ford in Dearborn. “We got 10 in last week and have 18 in all. We should have far more.”
Seavitt has discussed the delay with customers.
“The process has been a little slow this time. I know one thing, we’re happy they’re not giving them to us until they can make sure they can get things right,” he said. “They’re not telling us what they’re working on. But not having customers come back into the store to get repairs is very important to us. We want to make sure the quality is right before we get the vehicle.”
Aviator prices start at $51,100. Explorers range from $36,675 to $58,250.
The Free Press has tracked the issue over two months, as the situation continues to alarm workers who say they can’t figure out how things can go so wrong.
“We routinely receive several thousand vehicles from Chicago at a time. The teams doing the fixing are working nonstop, 24/7,” said a person who is working with employees at the Ford plant in Michigan.
As fast as fixes are made, vehicles are shipped. Sales manager Louie Sparks at The Ford Store Morgan Hill in California said he had 30 SUVs. And sales associate Jeremy Harrison at Lebanon Ford in southwest Ohio said the dealership has about 20 Explorers in its inventory.
“We’re getting what we need,” Harrison said.
No question, Ford sources say they’re working rapidly.
A source involved with Explorer repairs at the plant said problems include:
— Explorer chassis issues. X-rays are being used to try to diagnose problems.
— Explorer transmission-related questions that prevent the vehicle from going into park or properly sensing the vehicle is in park. Some transmissions are not going into park and the computer is automatically activating the parking brake. Also, the computer cannot determine whether the vehicle is going into park properly and then not activating the brake, which means the vehicles are rolling away.
— Explorer and Aviator air-conditioning systems that blow heat only.
— Aviator suspension issues. The new system has auto leveling, which drops the vehicle down slightly when it’s unlocked and approached. But they’re arriving with suspensions in failure mode.
Ford sources say they’re puzzled by even mundane situations, such as missing emblems and trim pieces and having the wrong wheels.
On Aug. 7, Ford recalled the two Chicago-built SUVs for missing a part that keeps them from rolling in park. On Aug. 30, Ford issued another recall for 10 vehicles, including the new Explorer and Aviator. That safety alert said, “A seat back with an improperly assembled recliner mechanism may have reduced strength and may not adequately restrain an occupant in a crash, increasing the risk of injury.”
The recall included Explorers built between Nov. 21, 2018, and Aug. 21, 2019, and Aviators built between April 12, 2019, and July 16, 2019, Ford said. All vehicles are built in Chicago.
Ford sources close to the situation confirm crews are working around the clock at Flat Rock now, and have been for two months.
Employees who say they’re concerned about public safety have provided the Free Press photos of the troubled vehicles, video of dashboard systems displaying repair alerts and a checklist provided to workers trying to resolve the problems.
“This is incredibly serious,” said a Ford source helping manage the problem. “There is no end in sight. Physical changes are being made at FRAP (Flat Rock Assembly Plant) in anticipation of additional parts being required moving forward into winter. Parts are currently being stored in temporary tents behind the plant.”
Ford employees note that Explorers and, to a lesser extent, Aviators, are arriving in Michigan by truck rather than by train. Trucking is more expensive.
Workers are being called to Flat Rock from plants in Kentucky, Dearborn, Wayne, Sterling Heights and elsewhere to do repairs, Ford sources in metro Detroit said.
“Roush is taking on more and more of the repair work,” a Ford source said, citing a metro Detroit engineering firm that works extensively with Ford. “Overtime is unlimited. It is not out of the question that the B shift (for Mustang production at Flat Rock) was eliminated in part or in total to make room for this repair. Each night, at the end of the day shift, the pre-delivery inspection areas are swept of all Mustangs and the Chicago vehicles are brought in to be fixed. Same goes for Friday through Sunday.”
A Ford source who provided video from the plant in July said, “Looking at our lot, you’d almost think we made those Explorers here as well.”
The Flat Rock plant is building Mustang and Lincoln Continental cars Monday through Thursday, with weekends devoted to processing Explorers and Aviators “for heavy repairs which cannot be done in the peripheral buildings,” Ford sources confirmed.
“We date the vehicles as we receive them, and right now they’re still processing some vehicles with the dates of Aug. 6, which means many of the vehicles have been here for a month now or more,” the Ford source at the plant said on Sept. 6.
“From what I’ve seen on what they call ‘money cars,’ or cars which are done, I would say they’re currently getting maybe 80 to 100 cars (per shift) finished. Still, with somewhere north of 12,000 cars needing repairs, doing the math, you can see this is a huge project and a huge expense for Ford.”