Cape Town - The public relations staff at Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa must be tearing what’s left of their hair out.
Just when they they thought they could see a light at the end of the dark tunnel that is the Kuga Disasta, with nearly two thirds of the affected cars having been through the recall and repair process, they have a whole new chapter of complaints to deal with - and this time it looks as if it’s not even Ford’s fault.
When Ford SA boss Joe Nemeth finally announced the recall of 4556 self-igniting 1.6-litre Ecoboost Kuga SUVs on the afternoon of 16 January, he also undertook to provide courtesy cars - at no cost to the customers - for Kuga owners while the cooling system of their cars was being updated.
And true to his word, Ford dealerships around the country have consistently waived the usual deposit on courtesy cars for Kuga owners - when the dealers had courtesy cars available, that is.
Almost immediately, complaints began surfacing about dealerships large and small, all over the country, that had simply run out of courtesy cars. In perhaps a quicker response than Ford was expecting, almost half the Kuga owners affected by the recall booked their cars in within 48 hours of the announcement.
With some customers waiting up to a week for courtesy cars - and spending a lot of money on alternative transport - it became necessary for Ford to arrange with car rental companies to provide courtesy cars for its customers; once again, it assured those customers they would not be liable for the costs.
However, it appears that not all the rental companies got the memo; soon customers were complaining on social media that they were being faced with huge bills for car rental - in one case for more than R30 000.
Free State resident Themba Dladla - whose Kuga caught fire after it had been inspected and he’d been assured it was safe - told the Sunday Times he was contacted in January by Europcar, which had been instructed by Ford to provide him with a courtesy car at Ford’s expense - and now he’s been hit with a bill from Europcar for R30 862.10.
“Where do I suddenly find R30 000?” he asked.
Henry Jenkins signed a contract with a Eurocar representative in January 2017, in which it was agreed that he would not be charged a delivery / collection fee.
"Ford SA arranged for this hired vehicle, not me,” he pointed out.
Agreement not honoured
“In February 2017 this agreement was not honoured by Eurocar, as they did charge me R880 for delivery / collection of their vehicle.
“I've been trying to get Eurocar to return my money without success,” he wrote on Facebook, adding, “The contract I signed with them is simply not worth the paper it was written on. Ford Tygervalley is also not responding to my complaint.”
Apparently a number of Kuga owners have had to pay a deposit to get ‘courtesy rentals’ which the rental companies have refused to refund and in at least one case, according to the Sunday Times, Avis has threatened to report a Kuga owner to the police for vehicle theft and handed her over to a debt collection agency to recover an outstanding rental bill, on the grounds that the rental was in her name and Avis wasn’t interested in the Ford agreement.
Ford spokeswoman Rella Bernardes insists, however, that “1.6 Kuga customers in approved courtesy vehicles should not be liable for any costs associated with the use of the vehicle”.
She said on Monday the company had once again communicated with all rental car agencies to ensure the process was followed correctly - and that if you’ve been incorrectly billed, you should contact Ford Customer Service by e-mailing [email protected] or by calling directly on 0860 011 022.