Ford UK plans no further recalls of its Ford Explorer despite claims on the Channel Four TV programme Dispatches (16 /11/00) that there is a major safety problem in the design of the popular SUV's cruise control system. Dispatches claimed that cruise control faults have led to the death of one driver in Britain and a number of others in the US . There have also been a number of incidents in the UK in which Explorers have accelerated out of control.

However Ford UK denies that there is still a problem following three recalls between 1997 and 1999.

"The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the United States has investigated this matter and dismissed it," said product affairs manager for Ford UK, Fiona Pargeter.

"Dispatches claimed that cruise control faults have led to the death "
"We're absolutely positive that the system we have has no problems. The recalls have addressed those issues with the [Explorer]."

British Explorer driver Chris Merrick died in April 1998 when he lost control of his SUV in a Bristol street. The speeding vehicle veered into a park and smashed into a tree.

An inquest later ruled that the most likely cause of his death was that the accelerator got caught in the carpet of the driver's footwell. Four weeks after the tragic crash, Ford recalled all Explorers, saying it had solved the problem by cutting L shapes in the offending carpet.

The programme included an interview with Gordon and Felicity Beck, of Warminster, Wiltshire, who were adamant that a fault with the cruise control system on their Explorer was to blame for a terrifying incident in which they only managed to stop their car as it sped out of control on a major road by pulling on the hand brake and performing a 180-degree turn. Ford subsequently told Mrs Beck they believed the carpet was caught beneath the accelerator pedal.

Other Explorer owners interviewed included Derek and Pat Rushton whose SUV was just two weeks old in January 1997 when it suddenly accelerated for no apparent reason. Mr Rushton managed to stop the car in a cloud of smoke and, after an RAC technician could find no fault, wrote to the company to advise them about the problem.

"We're absolutely positive that the system we have has no problems - Ford"
Ford's response was that it "was likely an object had caused the throttle to jam" but that it would have to happen again before they would replace the car. Mr Rushton wrote to Ford again, three times in total.

Ford UK declined to answer questions from before the programme was screened but, in a prepared statement, said it had identified "three potential issues… with Ford Explorer in the UK between 1997 and 1999 [and] all these issues were resolved through Ford's investigation and recall procedures and any necessary rework action [was] carried out on vehicles already sold".

Spokeswoman Pargeter said today (17/11/00) that since the recalls Ford UK had received no customer complaints about sudden acceleration problems with Explorers. She also said that Dispatches had interviewed chief executive Ian McAllister for 30 minutes yet only three minutes of his response to the programme's allegations had been screened.