DETROIT (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co (F.N) is still working on a remedy for a defect that raises the risk of an engine fire in almost 90,000 just-launched Escape and Fusion models, an executive at the second-largest U.S. automaker said on Monday.
This is the fourth recall of the 2013 Escape crossover since July. The Escape and the 2013 Fusion sedan are considered Ford's two most critical launches this year.
The problem, which affects models equipped with the turbocharged 1.6-liter engine, has triggered nine fires in vehicles owned by customers, Ford said in a document filed with U.S. safety regulators on Friday.
"We are working on the fix for the vehicles," said Ken Czubay, vice president of Ford's U.S. sales, marketing and service, told reporters and analysts on Monday.
"It's because of an overheating situation, which can result in certain circumstances in an engine fire, but we have had very few of those," he said during a call about November auto sales.
The 1.6-liter engine can overheat, leading to a fluid leak. If the fluid contacts the vehicle's hot exhaust system, this may cause a fire, Ford said in documents filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on November 30.
The latest recall involves 73,320 Escapes and 15,833 Fusions.
The Escape has been recalled twice before for problems with its 1.6-liter turbocharged engine. Two other recalls, both issued in early July, involved potentially defective brakes and mispositioned carpeting.
The Escape and Fusion, both completely redesigned for model year 2013, compete in segments that account for one of three auto sales to U.S. consumers, Ford has said. It is relying on the new models to build its U.S. market share this year.
Ford has not yet seen any "derogatory showroom traffic" on the vehicles as a result of the recalls, Czubay said. He said Ford is taking "all measures" to handle the recalls smoothly.
Escape sales dropped 4 percent in November, while total Ford vehicle sales rose 6.5 percent.
"Obviously, any recall doesn't help," TrueCar.com analyst Jesse Toprak said. "The way a manufacturer handles the recall makes a big difference and Ford has learned a lot of lessons, so have other automakers, to be extremely proactive on all issues."
Most of the recalled models are in the United States, Ford said. There have been no injuries stemming from the defect and Ford is loaning owners a car for free while it looks for a fix.
In July, Ford told owners to stop driving the 2013 Escape, citing a manufacturing problem that damaged the fuel lines. Ford recalled the model again in September because of an improperly installed engine cup plug.
The Escape models affected by last week's recall were built at the Louisville Assembly Plant from October 2011 to November 2012. The Fusion sedans were built this year at Hermosillo Stamping and Assembly Plant in Mexico from February through November.
According to the documents, Ford got word that a 2013 Escape caught fire in Florida in early September. Ford found that the engine was being operated without an engine oil dipstick, causing engine oil to spill over and touch the exhaust system.
From late September until late November, Ford received eight reports of vehicle fires, including one of a fire in a Fusion sedan. But Ford could not assess the cause of the fire.
Additionally, Ford also reported two previously undisclosed fire reports in vehicles that were not yet sold to customers.
(Paragraph two of this story has been corrected to show "fourth recall" instead of fifth)
Reporting by Deepa Seetharaman; Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall and Ben Klayman; Editing by Andrew Hay