Ford Freestyle SUV Is Probed by U.S. Over Unintended ‘Lunging’

Ford Motor Co. (F)’s Freestyle crossover SUVs are being investigated by the U.S. auto-safety regulator after 238 complaints about unintended “lunging” at low speeds when the driver’s foot isn’t on the gas pedal.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating about 170,000 Freestyles, model years 2005 through 2007, after 18 crashes attributed to the defect, including one that resulted in a minor injury, the agency said yesterday in a posting on its website.

“We will fully cooperate with the government as they review this matter,” Susan Krusel, a spokeswoman for the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker, said in an e-mail.

For all cars sold in the U.S., the agency received 15,174 complaints involving unintended acceleration from 2000 to March 2010 and ran 141 investigations of the phenomenon since 1980, closing 112 of them without corrective action, according to data compiled by NHTSA for Bloomberg News last year.

U.S. regulators and lawmakers last year investigated Toyota Motor Corp. (7203), the world’s largest automaker, for defects that could cause a car to speed up unexpectedly. Toyota, based in Toyota City, Japan, identified floor mats that could jam accelerator pedals and pedals supplied by CTS Corp. that could stick as the causes of the incidents.

Toyota has recalled millions of vehicles worldwide since 2009 because of the flaws.

Ten-Foot ‘Lunge’

In the Ford recall posted at NHTSA’s website yesterday, what consumers have described as a “lunge,” can be stopped by applying the brakes, “but in some cases the vehicle has moved as much as 10 feet if the brake was not applied, lightly applied or applied late,” the agency said, citing complaints.

Consumers have reported movement in both forward and reverse gears and described it as “sudden and unexpected and generally brief in duration,” NHTSA said.

The reported injury was to a pedestrian in a residential driveway whose knee was bruised, NHTSA said. Reports indicate the lunges may be made worse when vehicles’ air conditioning is on or when the steering wheel is turned sharply, NHTSA said.

NHTSA documented 20 deaths related to claims of sudden acceleration in Ford vehicles going back to 1980, according to the data compiled for Bloomberg News last year. That compared with 51 fatalities linked to Toyota and 12 to Chrysler Group LLC.

NHTSA Associate Administrator for Enforcement Daniel Smith, in a June 2010 presentation to the National Academy of Sciences, said the agency had confirmed one Toyota accident that had a “vehicle-based” unintended-acceleration cause. The August 2009 crash in San Diego killed four people when a Lexus they were in sped out of control. Investigators identified floor mats as a probable cause of the accident.

To contact the reporter on this story: Angela Greiling Keane in Washington at agreilingkea@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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