A lengthy report in the Detroit Free Press delves into a range of quality control issues confronting the 2020 Ford Explorer and its luxury platform sibling, the 2020 Lincoln Aviator. Freep says it's been following the issue for two months, tapping various unnamed sources for information on the automaker's unorthodox route to resolution. Seems the problem is Explorers and Aviators leaving the production line at the Chicago Assembly Plant with flaws in areas like the chassis, transmission and suspension, said vehicles trucked to Ford's Flat Rock Assembly Plant (FRAP) outside of Detroit for repair. The estimates range from 10,000 to 18,000 vehicles affected, numbers so high that Ford has sought help from Roush Engineering in nearby Allen Park, and brought workers and managers from other plants in the Midwest to FRAP to get vehicles repaired and shipped to dealers.
Ford hasn't shared the nature of the problems with anyone outside the company, including dealers and customers. Freep's sources are said to include workers who have provided photos of certain vehicles and of tents used to house parts at the FRAP repair site. The Explorer chassis allegedly has an unidentified problem that engineers are using X-rays to diagnose, and the transmission is having problems sensing when it's in park or going into park. Both the Explorer and Aviator have come off the line with HVAC units that only blow hot air. And the Aviator's height-adjustable suspension enters failure mode for unknown reasons. These come on top of quotidian mishaps common to every new vehicle, but that are meant to be sorted in pre-production, like missing emblems and trim pieces. They also come on top of a recall in early August issued for the Explorer and Aviator concerning the instrument cluster and parking brake, and another at the end of August over rear seatbacks that could collapse in a crash.
An automaker spokesperson told Freep, "Making updates to preproduction models based on all-new platforms as they roll off the assembly line – is standard industry practice." Except these aren't pre-production, these are early production vehicles that paying customers and dealers are waiting for, and some of the affected vehicles have been pulled off dealer lots. Dealers say they are fine waiting for the trucks to get sorted out, and they'd rather have Ford fix the problems before the SUVs go to customers.
Customers on two Explorer forums we checked back up the Freep report and don't seem as sanguine as dealers about the situation, wondering what's going on and when they'll get the SUVs they ordered. Explorers ordered in March and built in June still haven't been received, the Ford tracking web site has no information on when that will change, and they're left to glean information from contacts and other forum members. One poster said his Explorer has been listed "In Transit" for almost 60 days. Furthermore, to read the threads, some forum members mention problems beyond those listed in the Freep report, like incorrect brakes going on the Explorer ST, and a temporary stop-sale on the Aviator over fuel line issues. A Freep source told the paper of Explorer transmissions "leaking so much that it looks like a crime scene," and a Blue Oval Forums member with three Explorers on his dealer lot said two of them were bad, with an "AC leak on one. Coolant AND transfer case leak on the other."
Apparently, the backlog is so severe that SUV's delivered to FRAP in early August are still awaiting repair, and Ford's uncorked the overtime bottle to get this handled. The enlisted workforce toils 12-hour shifts seven days a week outside the facility on the bread-and-butter Explorer and hugely important Aviator. FRAP workers build the Mustang and Continental from Monday to Thursday, then attend to problem SUVs needing "heavy repairs which cannot be done in the peripheral buildings" over the weekend. A source said up to 100 cars get fixed per day, meaning that if no more Explorers or Aviators were delivered to FRAP, it would take until mid-December to make all the repairs on the lowest estimate of problem deliveries.