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Ford Fighting to Smooth Bronco II Safety Questions

June 15, 1992

DETROIT (AP) _ Ford Motor Co. no longer makes the Bronco II, but questions over the sport- utility vehicle still linger.

Ford faces lawsuits potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars from consumers who contend some Bronco II models were unsafe. The No. 2 automaker maintains the vehicle is safe, but some people may have driven it in an unsafe manner.

Sport-utility vehicles - which also include Jeep’s CJ-7 and Wrangler and the Suzuki Samurai - are designed with a chassis high off the ground and a narrow wheel base, giving them a high center of gravity. Federal officials say such designs make some compact utility vehicles more prone to roll over than passenger cars.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said in a report released earlier this year that the fatality rate in rollover accidents for the rear- wheel drive version of the Bronco II was twice as high as other sport- utility vehicles studied.

″I wouldn’t ride in one, nor would I let any member of my family ride in one,″ Brian O’Neill, president of the Arlington, Va.-based institute, said Monday. ″I think that anyone that is considering buying one of these vehicles should think twice.″

Ford made about 700,000 of the sport-utility vehicles between 1983 and 1989. Most still are on the road.

The report said the rear-wheel drive Bronco II had 3.78 deaths per 10,000 vehicles from 1986-90. That compared with 1.91 per 10,000 vehicles for the Jeep CJ-7 and 1.74 for the four-wheel drive Bronco II.

About six in seven Bronco IIs are four-wheel drive. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 1990 closed its defect investigation of the Bronco II, ruling it was no more dangerous than other vehicles in its class.

Ford spokesman John Ochs defended the Bronco II.

″We believe the vehicle is safe when driven with common sense. Obviously, any vehicle that is driven off the road can be subject to dangers that one wouldn’t have on the road,″ he said.

A Texas judge ruled in March that Ford must make public its records involving reports of Bronco II rollovers.

Ford claimed the documents would provide trade secrets that would hurt its competitiveness. But District Judge Ann Cochran refused to seal any documents that ″have a probable adverse effect upon the general public health and or safety.″

A September 1990 Texas Supreme Court ruling provided that court records could be sealed only if the substantial interest of a party outweighed the public’s right to know about safety hazards.

Ford is appealing that ruling, which could become the first major test of a new public safety law.

Ochs said about 100 lawsuits have been filed relating to deaths or injuries from Bronco II accidents; about 50 have been settled.

However, Ford disclosed in financial filings this year that 13 of the suits seek more than $742 million. Ochs said that amount represents the plaintiffs’ ″wish number.″ Settlements or judgements could be considerably less.

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