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Consumer Confidential: Ford expands recall, Zipcar hits market, some mail rates rising

April 14, 2011 | 11:09 am

Fordpic Here's your three's-a-charm Thursday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

-- Ford has expanded its recall of the popular F-150 pickup truck to about 1.2 million vehicles because front-seat airbags could inflate without the vehicle being involved in a crash. Ford said earlier this year that the problem was mostly among trucks built at a now-defunct factory and involved only 2005 and 2006 model years. But now federal safety regulators say there have been at least 269 incidents, making it the most "ever recorded in any inadvertent airbag deployment investigation or recall" in the history of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Ford is thus recalling trucks built at other factories during the 2004 through 2006 model years. It's also is recalling the Lincoln Mark LT, which was not previously identified with the problem.

-- Speaking of vehicles, Wall Street is hitting the gas pedal when it comes to Zipcar. The company, best known for its affordable rental cars, has offered its shares to investors for the first time and the stock price immediately took off, climbing at one point by nearly 67%. The stock opened at $30 on the Nasdaq market, trading under the ticker "ZIP." Zipcar’s warm reception is a sign that the market for new share offerings is heating up. There have been 40 initial public offerings so far this year, with proceeds exceeding $16 billion. Zipcar has more than 8,000 vehicles across the country. It requires users to sign-up for an annual membership. Once enrolled, drivers can reserve cars, often located in public parking lots, and pay by the hour, with insurance and gas included.

-- Postage rates are going up again, but not for most letters. It's the rates for business mail that are going up, meaning that it will cost advertisers more to flood your mailbox with sales offers and publishers will face higher charges to send you magazines. The basic 44-cent first-class letter rate will stay the same (for now), but heavier letters could cost more. The 44-cent rate still covers only the first ounce of a letter. Each additional ounce will cost 20 cents, up from 17 cents currently. The post office has been struggling financially as the Internet siphons off many letters, bills and payments that it used to handle. Meanwhile, the economic slump has caused a decline in the number of marketing pitches going out in the mail. The post office lost $8.5 billion last year.

-- David Lazarus

Photo: Ford is recalling more F-150 pickups because of airbag problems. Credit: Jeff Kowalsky / Bloomberg