(Adds Ford comment)
JOHANNESBURG, March 2 (Reuters) - South Africa's National Consumer Commission (NCC) said it has launched a probe into the local unit of U.S. automaker Ford over the recall of 4,500 Kuga SUVs after dozens of reports of the vehicles catching fire spontaneously.
Ford's Southern Africa President and chief executive Jeff Nemeth in January said the company could confirm 39 incidents of the cars catching fire, as well as one death, which Nemeth said was not directly linked to the defect.
Ford's South African unit said the company, a unit of the U.S. auto-maker Ford, would cooperate with the probe.
"The National Consumer Commission says that it has instituted an investigation into the activities of Ford Motor Company Southern Africa and its dealerships, for alleged prohibited conduct," the commission said in a statement seen on its website on Thursday.
"The NCC received more than 130 complaints against Ford SA relating to various issues, including the combusting of Kuga vehicles, since December last year," it said.
A spokeswoman for Ford's Southern Africa unit, Rella Bernardes said the firm had followed safety guidelines.
"We have received the notice from the NCC and will continue to fully cooperate with them on all fronts. At all times, we operate in line with the Safety Recall Guidelines in terms of the Consumer Protection Act, 2008," she said in a statement. (Reporting by Ed Stoddard and TJ Strydom; Editing by James Macharia)