DETROIT, July 9 — Ford Motor Co. hurt by a rash of quality problems over the last two years, has been quietly fixing a defect on hundreds of new Expedition sport utility vehicles that could have led to an embarrassing recall, a source close to the company said Monday.
THE SOURCE SAID the problem involved defective welding in the rear suspension area of between 1,000 and 2,000 early production models of the full-size SUV, which Ford began building in April at its Michigan Truck assembly plant outside Detroit.
Della DiPietro, a spokeswoman for Ford, declined to discuss details of the problem with the Expedition.
“This was something that happened very early on in the launch, it was resolved very early on in the launch, and it’s an issue that we’re putting behind us,” DiPietro said.
Gary Corrigan, a spokesman for Dana, said the company would not comment on the launch problem either. “We just consider this to be a quality issue that Ford is working through in their normal manufacturing process,” he said.
Ford caught the problem before any of the vehicles were shipped to dealers, since it held back the first month of 2003 Expedition and Lincoln Navigator production for extra inspections and quality checks.
But the Ford source said repair work, involving four or five rewelds, was still taking place on Monday with about 300 new Expeditions still in line for welding work.
Auto parts supplier Dana Corp. , which makes the frame of the Expedition, is fixing the trucks together with an independent contractor, the source told Reuters.
The work was being carried out in a hangar of the Willow Run airport near Ann Arbor, Michigan, which sits alongside a tightly secured parking field where Ford has held many of its new trucks, clad in white plastic sheeting, since April.
The problem was first reported by BlueOvalNews, a Web site that closely follows Ford.
The world’s second-largest automaker had hoped for a flawless launch of its new SUVs after highly publicized recalls of the redesigned 2002 Explorer and the new Escape SUV that it rolled out in 2000.
In this case, however, the source said Ford was at least spared the negative publicity that would have come with a recall.
“They caught them early, they were the first couple of thousand trucks,” the source said.