United States:Ford won't sell patrol cars to police agencies suing it
By Lawrence Viele / Bloomberg News
Ford Motor Co. has told police agencies suing over alleged fuel tank defects in patrol cars that their business isn't welcome.
Ford sent lawyers for 35 law-enforcement agencies a letter telling them no carmaker can meet standards for gas tank safety sought by the lawsuits, which stem from claims that Crown Victoria police cars tend to catch fire and explode in rear-end collisions.
"Ford does not believe that any vehicle manufactured by any company anywhere in the world can meet your client's expectations," said the unsigned letter, dated July 10. "Regrettably, Ford has no choice but to discontinue filling orders from your client."
Ford controls 85 percent of the U.S. market for police cruisers, which account for 1 percent of the company's sales, said Ford lawyer Doug Lampe. The threat to cut off Crown Victoria sales leaves the agencies suing Ford with limited choices for patrol car purchases.
"We are kind of waiting for Chrysler or GM to come up with a competing vehicle," said Bill Everson, president of the Mesa, Arizona, chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police. "In my opinion, it looks like Ford is trying to put pressure on police agencies to back off on the lawsuit."
Lawyers for governments suing Ford provided Bloomberg News with a copy of the letter.
"We've been committed to the police car business for many years," Lampe said, when asked to comment on the letter. "We hope to stay in it. Litigation shouldn't drive business out of business."
U.S. highway safety officials said there have been 29 post- crash fires and 18 deaths between 1992 and 2002 in Crown Victoria police cruisers. The fatal fires occurred after high-speed rear- end collisions with drunken or drugged drivers, Ford said.
Ford volunteered last year to retrofit the 350,000 Crown Victoria police cruisers on the road with fuel tank shields and formed a panel to review fuel-tank components. Crown Victoria sedans in May won top safety ratings by U.S. government regulators in annual crash tests.
Ford is facing about 35 consumer-fraud cases in U.S. courts that seek to represent agencies that bought Crown Victoria police cars as a group. The suits claim the gas tanks are defective and some ask for monetary damages as well as court-ordered design changes to improve safety.
At least five wrongful-death suits on behalf of police officers killed in Crown Victoria accidents also are pending, said David Perry, a lawyer in Corpus Christi, Texas, who represents Dallas and Nueces County, Texas, in Crown Victoria suits.
At least half of the more than 70 agencies that originally sought to join the proposed class-action suits have dropped their claims, Lampe said. The claims were dropped before the letters went out, he said.
Plaintiffs that still buy Crown Victoria police cruisers, known as Police Interceptors, include Indianapolis; Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, a New Orleans suburb; and Hoover, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham, Lampe said.
Shares of Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford were unchanged at $10.83 at 1:09 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Ford is second in worldwide auto sales behind General Motors Corp.
Ford, with $6.4 billion in net losses the last two years, is trying to limit expenses and cut costs by as much as $2.5 billion this year to meet a profit goal of 70 cents a share. The automaker said this week that second-quarter profit fell 27 percent to $417 million as North American sales of models such as the Explorer sport utility and F-150 pickup declined.
U.S. sales of Crown Victoria sedans rose 4.4 percent in the first half of 2003 to 43,545 as overall U.S. auto sales declined 2.3 percent and Ford's market share slipped to 21.2 percent from 21.3 percent a year earlier, according to Autodata Corp.
DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler will begin selling its first new rear-wheel drive sedans in a decade next year when it introduces the Chrysler 300C and Dodge Magnum sedans. Chrysler sells some front-wheel drive Dodge Intrepid sedans as police cars and General Motors sells the front-wheel drive Chevrolet Impala to police agencies.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....