O A K L A N D, Calif., Oct. 11, 2000 -- In an unprecedented move, a state judge ordered the recall of as many as 1.7 million Ford cars and trucks today, accusing the automaker of “concealment of a dangerouscondition.”
It was the first time a judge in the United States had ordered acar recall.
The Alameda County judge said Ford knew the vehicles were proneto stalling, especially when the engine was hot, but failed toalert consumers.
Superior Court Judge Michael E. Ballachey had issued a tentativeruling in August hinting he would order the recall and accusingFord of knowing for nearly two decades that the ignition moduleswere “flawed from the outset.”
Ballachey gave Ford attorneys a chance to change his mind, buthis ruling today showed they had failed to sway him.
“This case was about concealment of a dangerous condition,”Ballachey read from the bench.
Judge Says Ford Deceived Regulators
The ruling was based on a class-action suit filed on behalf of3.5 million current and former Ford owners in California. Theplaintiffs claim the vehicles stall because wrongly placed ignitiondevices were exposed to excessive heat and stress.
Ballachey said Ford repeatedly deceived federal regulators byclaiming there were no problems with its ignition devices invehicles in the 1983-95 model years.
Ballachey wrote that Ford sold as many as 23 million vehiclesprone to stalling nationwide, but this recall applies only tovehicles sold in California. Similar class-action suits are pendingin Alabama, Maryland, Illinois, Tennessee and Washington.
“Ford has been aware, since at least 1982, that installing itsTFI ignition modules on the distributors … made them inordinatelyprone to failure due to exposure to excessive heat and thermalstress,” Ballachey’s ruling said.
Ford Denies Systems Were Flawed
The suit challenges Ford’s placement of the thick film ignition,known as a TFI module, which regulates electric current to thespark plugs. In 300 models sold between 1983 and 1995, the modulewas mounted on the distributor near the engine block, where it wasexposed to high temperatures.
Ford documents show the automaker was warned by an engineer thathigh temperatures would cause the device to fail and stall theengine, confirmed the problem in internal studies and could havemoved the module to a cooler spot for an extra $4 per vehicle.
Ford has denied its TFI ignition systems were flawed, and saidtoday it disagreed with the judge’s ruling.
“The record in this case does not demonstrate a safetyproblem,” Ford attorney Richard Warmer said. “The recall is notjusitifed by the evidence. These vehicles are safe.”
Recall Will Cost Company Millions
The Center for Auto Safety estimated that any California recallalone would cost Ford at least $125 million.
Ford said it does not know how much a California recall wouldcost. But its own 1986 internal documents projected that Ford wouldspend nearly $300 million to fix the TFI problems nationwide forits 1994-1996 models.
After complaints from customers and dealers about stalling, Fordrecalled 1.1 million 1984-85 vehicles in 1987 to repair theirignition devices.
Jeff Fazio, a lawyer for the plaintiffs who filed theclass-action suit, said: “I think it’s a great day forconsumers.”