|Gregory Skwira is a copy editor for Automotive News.|
DETROIT -- I've had vehicles recalled before. But I've always been able to make it to the first payment.
So it came as a surprise when my cell phone rang Saturday morning and Southgate Ford in suburban Detroit told me my shiny 2-week-old Ford Escape was in need of attention -- as in right now.
I was away from home selling pottery at an art fair -- my other full-time job -- and (embarrassing for someone in my line of work) was a couple of days behind on auto industry news. I hadn't heard.
With most recalls you drop off the vehicle whenever -- next week, next month. This one was different: A manufacturing error by a supplier could cause a part in the fuel line to fail, potentially causing a 2013 Escape with the 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine to make like it's a Weber grill.
The woman on the phone was personable, courteous, professional, apologetic and eager to help. Here's how it would work:
My Escape would be taken by flatbed to the dealership and a rental car would be delivered. Parts are to begin arriving this week, and the Escape would be returned with a repaired fuel line, a wash job and a full tank of gas. (Alas, I had filled up about two miles before parking the Escape in the driveway.)
This afternoon, the loaner -- a new Focus with 4 miles on the odometer -- arrived, and my Escape headed off to the hospital. Earlier in the day, the woman at Southgate Ford had called twice to keep me apprised of the timing.
And, between those two calls, someone from Ford's customer service operation phoned to make sure the dealership had begun the process and that I was OK with it. She provided a case number and phone numbers in case I had questions, and said her office would be following up with phone calls.
Of course, in an ideal world you don't want to be delivering cars -- especially a new design of a very important model -- that can become rolling bonfires. It's a major screw-up in a very important launch. (Of a very nice vehicle, I should add.) But there are ways to be smart when you mess up, and Ford found a lot of them.
I'm sure the conversation between Ford and the errant supplier is vigorous and heated. But however that finger-pointing turns out, the bottom line is that the car-shopping public won't remember some Tier 2 supplier of which they've never heard; it's Ford that takes the hit.
Someone, or some group of people, at Ford was smart enough to know that and to get things done right.
Granted, it's easier to do that when there are only 4,800 vehicles in owners' hands. But the adjective that comes to mind is "Lexus-like."
Years ago, soon after Lexus (what? a Japanese luxury brand?) came to the United States, it had to call back some vehicles. Lexus gave owners excellent, thoughtful service of a type not seen before in auto industry recalls. People who watch these things say it was a key element in the brand becoming a player in the luxury market -- or at least not washing out before it had a chance to prove itself.
So my new flawed 2013 Escape, with 281 miles on the odometer, is at this moment rolling down the freeway on a flatbed. But I feel pretty good about Ford and about the dealership that sold it to me -- and that says a lot about how the company is handling this.