SEATTLE -- Attorney General Christine Gregoire today announced a national $51.5 million settlement with Ford Motor Co., manufacturer of the popular Explorer SUVs that have been linked to rollover accidents and 271 deaths and 700 injuries nationwide.
The settlement comes a year after attorneys general reached a similar $51.5 million settlement with Bridgestone/Firestone, maker of tires installed as original equipment on the Ford Explorer.
In the case against Ford, the states alleged that the auto maker's advertising misled consumers about the vehicle's handling abilities, its safe cargo handling capacity and the quality of replacement tires sold as original equipment.
"In an effort to make more sales, Ford's advertising led consumers to think these trucks have car-like handling," Gregoire said. "Owners' manuals tell a different story. To bolster sales, the company blurred the distinction between SUVs and passenger cars," she said.
Gregoire said the lessons from the state investigation, including the review of 7.5 million documents, were clear. "An SUV is not a car. It has a higher propensity for rollover and drivers need to know you drive an SUV differently."
She said it is important to drive SUVs within their limits and never overload them.
Gregoire noted that most of the safety issues identified in this case apply to all SUVs, regardless of make or model. SUVs are actually small trucks with a higher center of gravity than a passenger car, which makes them more prone to rollover.
Washington, which took a lead role in the negotiations, will receive a total of $900,000. Of that, $600,000 will reimburse the state for its attorney fees and costs, $100,000 will be used to continue the state's tire safety public education campaign and $200,000 will be turned over to the state General Fund.
Ford will also pay $30 million to a national consumer education campaign to advise drivers, particularly those unfamiliar with trucks, about safe SUV driving and loading. The campaign will focus on all SUVs, not just those made by Ford.
Besides providing funding for the safety campaign, the agreement contains other provisions aimed at improving motorist safety. For instance, the settlement:
Prohibits Ford from making misrepresentations about SUV cargo capacity, safety and handling characteristics, or the purpose of any recall or recommended inspection. This includes prohibiting Ford from using the term "car-like" in advertising with respect to the steering and handling of its SUVs.
Requires the company to use reliable, scientific evidence to back-up claims related to vehicle safety, performance or durability.
Requires the company to provide safety information about cargo loading and vehicle handling to each consumer who buys a Ford SUV.
Although no Washington residents have been killed or injured as a result of Ford Explorer rollovers connected to tire failures, there have been 26 reports of tire failures in the state.
Most of the deaths and injuries have occurred in warm states, where road and tire heat were identified as contributing factors.