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Ford to upgrade limos to cut fire risk

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First it was police cruisers. Now it’s stretch limousines.

Ford is offering a free safety upgrade to owners of Lincoln Town Car stretch limos: gas tank shields to reduce the risk of fires in high speed, rear-end crashes.

The move comes as Ford prepares to defend a wrongful-death case involving a fire that killed three North Carolina sisters in a Town Car stretch limo. The tank shields are the same ones Ford gave police departments three years ago after several officers died when their Crown Victoria cruisers were rammed from behind and burst into flames.

While extending the upgrade to a second type of vehicle, Ford continues to defend the safety of millions of other cars with the same fuel system — one that rival manufacturers, and even Ford, have largely abandoned.

Cars built on Ford’s “Panther platform” — some 3 million standard Crown Victorias, Town Cars and Grand Marquises, along with about 32,000 stretch limos and 350,000 police cruisers — have their gas tanks mounted behind the rear axle, a design that was once common.

Though some light trucks still feature rear-of-axle tanks, the Panthers are the only major North American passenger car line that still has them. Ford itself has been going in a different direction, most recently switching to forward-of-axle tanks for the Mustang.

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