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NHTSA to Investigate More Than 3.7 Million Ford Motor Co. Pickups, SUVs for Defect

WASHINGTON March 23, 2005; Ken Thomas writing for the AP reported that Federal regulators said Wednesday they are investigating more than 3.7 million Ford Motor Co. pickups and sport utility vehicles because of a defect in a cruise control switch that already has led to a recall.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it would examine Ford F-150 pickups from the 1995-1999 and 2001-2002 model years, and Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators from the 1997-1999 and 2001-2002 model years.

Agency officials said they have received 218 complaints of engine fires from the cruise control switch in those models. No injuries or fatalities have been reported.

The investigation of the popular vehicles does not include the 2000 model years of the trucks and SUVs, which was covered by recall in January of nearly 800,000 vehicles.

Ford said the cruise control switch could short circuit and cause an engine compartment fire when the vehicle is parked or driven, even if cruise control is not in use.

"We'll continue to cooperate with the agency until the matter is closed," Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley said.

"Fires happen for a variety of reasons ranging from faulty repair, improper modification to the vehicle with aftermarket parts and wiring, prior accident damage, and even arson," Kinley said. "This is why each complaint or allegation must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis."

The F-Series pickups long have been one of Ford's best-selling vehicles. The company said in late December it had set an industry record for full-size pickup sales in 2004, selling more than 912,000 F-Series pickups. It eclipsed Ford's own mark of 911,597 pickups sold in 2001.

The auto safety agency often conducts investigations after getting complaints from consumers or spotting trends in warranty claims. Investigations can lead to vehicle recalls.

The recall in January affected about 792,000 Ford F-150 pickups, Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators from the 2000 model year. The 2001 F-Series Supercrew trucks also were affected.

The company began notifying owners in February of the recall. Dealers were instructed to deactivate the cruise control switch for free.

Kinley said replacement parts for the defect are expected to become available in mid- to late-April.

The federal investigation got under way in November after regulators got 36 reports of fires. All the incidents occurred when the vehicle was parked and the ignition was turned off. No injuries were reported. The agency has received 193 complaints about the 2000 model year vehicles.

Ford shares dropped 18 cents, or 1.6 percent, to close at $10.99 on the New York Stock Exchange. The price was Ford's lowest since late 2003.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

Ford Motor Company: