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Old 05-28-2003, 05:14   #1 (permalink)
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Feds check seats in 1.2 million Explorers

Probe could lead to recall of some Ford SUVs; VW Passat air bags also under scrutiny

By Rip Watson / Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON -- U.S. regulators are investigating 1.2 million Ford Motor Co. Explorer sport utility vehicles after reports of faulty seats. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also reviewing reports of air bag failures that may affect 350,000 Volkswagen AG Passat sedans.

The probes are the first steps toward possible recalls. The agency is looking into Explorers for the 1998 through 2000 model years and Passats from model years 1998 to 2002.

The investigation of Ford's sport utility began after 23 reports, 12 in the past year, that the seat back can recline without warning, NHTSA's Web site said. Three crashes were reported to the agency, including one injury, after the driver hit a tree.

Volkswagen's Passat came under review after two reports that air bags didn't deploy properly on the passenger side. The agency's summary report said studs and bolts failed to keep the equipment in place.

The preliminary investigation will result in a decision on whether to close the case or order an engineering analysis of the vehicles. If the analysis finds sufficient evidence of a defect, the agency can request or force a recall. About two in 10 initial probes prompt further review and 72 percent of cases that go through an engineering analysis result in recalls.

Volkswagen spokesman Tony Fouladpour declined to comment immediately. Ford spokesman Glenn Ray said Ford "was cooperating fully with NHTSA" on the investigation.

(Photo)Ford Explorers move off the line at Louisville Assembly Plant. There have been 23 reports, 12 in the past year, that the seat back can recline without warning.
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