By Bernie Woodall
(Reuters) - Ford Motor Co told owners of the best-selling SUV in the United States on Thursday to stop driving 2013 model Ford Escape with 1.6-liter engines immediately due to the risk of an engine fire.
Ford recalled about 11,500 new 2013 model Ford Escape SUVs with 1.6-liter engines, of which about 4,800 were sold to customers in the U.S. and Canadian markets, the company said. Most of the rest are on dealer lots.
Only Ford Escape with 1.6-liter engines sold in the U.S. and Canadian markets are affected by the recall and fire risk, Ford said.
It is extremely rare for an automaker to warn drivers to stop driving their vehicles immediately.
Ford is telling owners to contact their local Ford dealers immediately so that loaner vehicles can be delivered and their Escapes picked up to be taken to the dealerships for repair.
Ford said an under-the-hood fire could happen due to an engine compartment fuel line that could split and leak fuel.
Marcey Zwiebel, Ford spokeswoman, said that if consumers quickly contact their dealers, replacement of the fuel line in all of the affected Escapes can be repaired within two weeks.
"It's a liability thing on their part," said Aaron Bragman of IHS Global Insight. "They don't want people driving it if its happened when they were just shuttling them at the plant."
Bragman referred to the fact that of the three incidents of under-the-hood fires reported by Ford, two occurred at the production plant as they were being shuttled from assembly line to a parking lot to await shipment.
Zwiebel said that Ford is hopeful that consumers will see this as an issue that the automaker fixed quickly and alerted them in a timely fashion.
"This is not a routine action that we are taking but we do believe it is appropriate in these circumstances," said Zwiebel.
Zwiebel said there have been no injuries reported, and that one of the fires was reported in an Escape in consumer hands, near Toronto.
Of the 11,500 recalled Escapes, 9,300 are in the United States and the remainder in Canada, Zwiebel said.
It was the second recall for the 2013 Ford Escape this month. Earlier, Ford recalled 8,266 Escape due to improper positioning of carpet that may reduce clearance for the brake pedal.
In 2011, the Escape, a small SUV, was the best-selling sports utility vehicle in the U.S. market when 254,300 were sold. But none of those are affected by the fuel line issue.
Also not affected by the fire risk recall and stop driving recommendation are 2013 model Escapes with 2.0- and 2.5-liter engines.
Ford said that about 10 percent of the new model Ford Escapes sold have 2.5-liter engines and the rest are about evenly split between the 1.6- and 2.0-liter engines.
The redesigned Escape began to sell throughout North America only last month. Consumers began buying them soon after they began production at the Louisville, Kentucky assembly plant that was revamped last year to make the new Escape.
Michelle Krebs, analyst with Edmunds.com, said the Escape is an important vehicle for Ford.
"Since the Escape is one of Ford's highest volume models, it is critically important that it addresses the problem quickly and properly, which is what it appears to be is doing," said analyst Michelle Krebs with Edmunds.com.
The Escape has lost the title as best-selling small SUV, also known as crossovers, in the first half of this year to the Honda Motor Co CR-V, which has seen sales rise 32 percent compared to the 4-percent sales gain for Escape.
The 2012 CR-V was also recalled on Thursday, for door lock issues.
Dealers were also told to stop selling 2013 Ford Escape SUVs with 1.6-liter engines until they are repaired.
"We have identified an issue and are taking quick actions in the best interest of our customers," said Ray Nevi, assistant director, Ford Automotive Safety Office.
"Our intensive investigation and testing has identified the area of concern and we are moving as quickly as possible to repair vehicles for our customers. In the meantime, it is extremely important that affected customers not ignore this recall and immediately contact their dealer."
The Escape with the 1.6-liter engine involved in the recall and with the problem were made through July 11, Ford said.
(Reporting By Bernie Woodall; Editing by Xavier Briand, Gerald E. McCormick and Sofina Mirza-Reid)