— Ford PowerShift transmission problems in Fiesta and Focus cars have already cost the automaker more than $3 billion in warranty and legal expenses as thousands of lawsuits were filed in the U.S.
But according to an in-depth report from the Detroit Free Press, Ford employees and engineers knew for years the transmissions were defective and that Fiesta and Focus customers would never stop complaining.
Ford admitted in a 2019 Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing that the automaker could be held liable in multiple class action lawsuits filed over Fiesta and Focus transmissions. The admission is coming to pass as Ford continues to fight class actions and frustrated owners, with an estimated 1.5 million Fiesta and Focus cars still on the roads.
The PowerShift transmissions use dry-clutch technology which doesn't use oil to lubricate the clutches, allegedly the primary reason the transmissions fail. The dual-clutch transmissions are meant to offer the benefits of manual transmissions without all the gear shifting. In addition, dual-clutch technology is supposed to improve fuel economy.
Complaints about the Fiesta and Focus piled up quickly, with the 2012 Focus piling up more than 1,100 complaints filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about the transmissions.
Experts in the workings of vehicles said they knew there were problems when the transmissions kept hesitating and wouldn't go into the proper gears. Common results were transmissions that shifted into NEUTRAL or wouldn't shift at all.
Engineers, and even Ford's own attorneys, said in 2008 the automaker could face expensive recalls for selling cars with transmissions that slipped into NEUTRAL without warning. But according to the Free Press report, shifting into NEUTRAL would be used as a fail-safe solution to prevent the PowerShift transmissions from seizing and burning up.
Additionally, Ford looked at the problem as a non-safety issue that didn't cause a loss of braking, steering and other important functions.
Internal documents also show how the transmissions in 2011 Ford Fiestas wouldn't satisfy customers but no one in management stopped the process. Documents also indicate the automaker at one point decided it would no longer use the PowerShift transmissions, a decision that would cost the company time and money.
However, likely because of those time and money issues, Ford continued to use the transmissions in the Fiesta and Focus cars.
One engineer concurred and said Ford reached a "point of no return" with the transmissions because of the huge investment in the idea, an idea the engineer said came from somewhere, but he didn't know from where.
Another engineer alleges Ford intentionally hid problems with the transmissions by using computer software language, but creating special software only did so much to conceal the defects.
Internal documents from engineers say they couldn't get rid of a transmission vibration problem on the Ford Focus and couldn't reach the desired calibration to make the car safe to drive.
And a mechanical expert for Ford told the Press a friend had a stepdaughter who drove a Fiesta and according to the expert he told his friend, "I wouldn't put my kid in one of those cars."
According to the Free Press report, Ford's rush to make fuel efficient cars pushed assembly workers to produce cars that weren't ready for the public. The thought of stopping production to re-design the transmission was allegedly too costly even though engineers had long complained about the PowerShift problems.
Ford workers also claim the cars started shuddering as soon as they left the assembly lines, but questioning the reliability of the transmissions allegedly resulted in answers claiming the shuddering was normal.
A former Ford employee who handled phone calls from dealerships said the seriousness of the problem was downplayed by not using certain words in reports. According to the former employee, making statements that suggested Ford was liable was something you didn't do if you wanted to keep your job.
Ford responded to the Free Press investigation by denying there are problems with the cars and trying to reach the facts from a few documents out of millions doesn't tell the whole story. Ford also referenced previous government reports and investigations that didn't find safety problems with the transmissions.
Read about some of the legal actions taken against Ford over the PowerShift transmissions, or add your own complaint here.
- Ford Dual-Clutch Transmission Lawsuit Filed in Texas
- Ford PowerShift Dual-Clutch Transmission Settlement Questioned
- Ford Transmission Lawsuit Settlement Agreed Upon by Parties
- Ford Fiesta and Focus Transmission Lawsuit Filed After Complaints
- Ford PowerShift Transmission Lawsuit Includes Fiesta and Focus
- Ford DPS6 PowerShift Transmission Lawsuits Consolidated
- Ford PowerShift Transmission Problems Cause Lawsuit
- Ford Transmission Lawsuit Includes Fiesta and Focus Cars
- Ford Fiesta and Focus Owners in Thailand Win PowerShift Case
- Ford PowerShift Transmission 'Mass-Action' Lawsuit Filed
- Ford Transmission Class Action Lawsuit Settlement Approved