26 July 2017: The corporate regulator is finally dragging Ford through the courts in Australia. Vindication is potentially just around the corner for thousands of embittered customers. Jeep, Holden, Chrysler, Volkswagen and Audi are doubtless all quietly pooping themselves in the background, wondering who’s next.
That’s right - Ford will be going to court to defend the ACCC’s official allegations that it behaves towards customers in the manner of a grumpy Kim Jong Un considering the treatment of dissidents.
Specifically, the ACCC alleges that the defendant (Ford Motor Company Australia Limited) engaged in unconscionable and misleading or deceptive conduct in response to customer complaints.
This all orbits, of course, around the black hole of the PowerShit dual-clutch transmission, fitted to 70,000 Focus, Fiesta and Ecosport Ford shitheaps manufactured from 2011 to 2016.
WHAT THE ACCC ALLEGES
According to ACCC chairman Rod Sims:
“The ACCC alleges that Ford misrepresented to customers who made complaints that the issues with their vehicles were caused by the way the driver handled the vehicle, even though Ford was aware of systemic issues with the vehicles from at least 2013.”
The watchdog says about half of those 70,000 vehicles had at least one repair - if you can call it that - to the PowerShit transmission, which performs in the manner of an automotive epileptic fit - shuddering and jerking uncontrollably.
The ACCC further alleges that Ford failed to honour consumer law by failing to refund or replace those vehicles, even after multiple unsuccessful repair attempts. Instead, the ACCC says, Ford compelled owners to join the “PowerShit Owners Loyalty Program”.
The ACCC alleges that becoming a paid-up member of PSOLP usually meant owners had to pay a hefty sum towards the replacement vehicle - averaging $7000.
Frankly, to me, this is a bit like the Nazis asking the Jews to join a Club Shower Loyalty Program and then walk down the hall to the Zyclon B. There’s a systematic parallel. (But I acknowledge legally that this is only an allegation at this point.)
PROFITEERING FROM UNDER-DONE ENGINEERING
Rod Sims adds:
“The ACCC alleges that Ford’s conduct towards customers who had complained of issues with their vehicles was unconscionable. It is also alleged that Ford then on-sold vehicles surrendered as part of the Powershift Ownership Loyalty Program to wholesalers and customers, without disclosing the systemic or specific issues experienced with those vehicles.”
If true, this means Ford arseholes profiteered three ways from their own PowerShit transmission’s inherent design defect. Firstly, by sidestepping the obligation to refund or replace. Second, by extorting a cash contribution from the punter. And thirdly by onselling the shitheap ultimately to some other poor bastard where the process, presumably, repeated itself profitably.
Here's the full ACCC media release >>
PENALTIES SOUGHT AGAINST FORD
The ACCC is seeking declarations, injunctions, pecuniary penalties, consumer redress orders, corrective advertising, and compliance program obligations. So vindication for beleaguered owners could be around the corner, at last. Respite, perhaps from a lon, painfull case of PowerShit-itis.
This matter is before the court, so I have to be very careful what I say. I don’t know the standard of legal proof required. I don’t know the evidence the ACCC has compiled. I don’t know if Ford’s high-priced arsehole lawyers will be able to bullshit their way out of it in court. Legally I will not speculate on the probable outcome.
Leaving the legal dimension of this issue to one side, I’ll simply presume ACCC investigators have done a good job compiling a strong case based upon compelling evidence, which will proceed on the basis of them believing the evidence, on the balance of probability, may be successfully prosecuted. And I wish the ACCC all the best with that. I’m hoping for a positive outcome for owners.
BEYOND THE LEGALITIES (opinion)
There is, however, in my view an underlying moral and ethical dimension to Ford’s behaviour as well, and this is what I will comment on now, making no inference of legal guilt or innocence, which is absolutely for the court to determine.
As an engineer I have no doubt the PowerShit transmission is fundamentally flawed. I’ve had confidential discussions with one other engineer in particular, who would know - in my view. The clutch overheats. It’s that simple. I’ve been told a fix was even proposed - retrofitting an electric fan to the housing the better to dissipate the excess heat. It was put to me Ford declined to implement this fix.
My inbox is routinely filled with PowerShit customer complaints - bordering on utter ‘end of tether’ frustration. I am well aware of the entrenched three-ring runaround carefully choreographed by Ford and its dealers, aimed, in so far as I can tell to constitute the antithesis of customer service.
One: Tell the customer the transmission is still learning. Two: Perform a completely ineffective software upgrade. Three: (after several more weeks of complaint and utter frustration) replace the clutch … which then fails again, repeat - back to ring one, like a bad rerun of Groundhog Day.
IS MORALITY OPTIONAL FOR A CARMAKER?
It seems to me that Ford - and this is a general comment not relating specifically to the ACCC’s allegations, which a court will determine - it seems to me that Ford, like Volkswagen, Jeep, Holden, Audi and Chrysler, is one of those companies that believes Australian Consumer Law is elastic, perhaps even optional, or that it applies only to TVs or toasters, and that morality is infinitely elastic.
Certainly it seems that the requirement to behave ethically is several rungs lower on the ladder than making a profit for the boys upstairs, in these organisations, and that behaving as if a sociopath is not just acceptable for a large car company such as Ford, but in fact viewed internally as a virtue.
I’ve been saying this for years. Interestingly, it seems the ACCC is coming around to this point of view.
ACCC VERSUS THE AUSTRALIAN CAR INDUSTRY
“The ACCC is alarmed about the level of non-compliance with the Australian Consumer Law in the new car industry, which has been laid bare in our new car retailing market study due out next month. Cars are the second-most expensive purchase most consumers will ever make and if they fail to meet a consumer guarantee, people are automatically entitled to a remedy.”
Can’t wait for next month. In the immortal words of Deadpool, I’ll be touching myself the day that report comes out.
And certainly there will be some anticipatory leakage into the underpants in some carmaker boardrooms. And, not in a good way. I’m sure they’re already in preliminary discussions with their own arsehole lawyers. Here’s Mr Sims again:
“The ACCC urges all vehicle manufacturers to ensure their complaints handling processes provide the remedies that consumers are entitled to get under the Australian Consumer Law or, like Ford, they will find themselves in court.”
Amen to that. Against those shitheads at Ford, the ACCC is seeking declarations, injunctions, pecuniary penalties, consumer redress orders, corrective advertising, and compliance program obligations. I wish them all the best for a resoundingly successful prosecution.
To you, if you have been cursed by the Ford PowerShit hoodoo, if you are a card-carrying member of POOP, that glimmer you see could just be evidence of the end of the tunnel, just up ahead. Here’s hoping.
If the ACCC is successful, the Sons of Anarchy will certainly have its remedial work cut out. Those PowerShitheads at Ford may never walk the same again. This will be an epic endurance event in the shower, where (I hope) cleanliness will emerge victorious, next (perhaps) to fake godliness. I do hope the hot water does not run out prematurely. Nobody deserves that.
Keep your chins up, PowerShit sufferers. The fat lady is slated to belt out Moon River in five.
LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL FOR BELEAGUERED FORD FOCUS POWERSHIFT TRANSMISSION OWNERS?
May 4, 2016: More than 60,000 Ford Focus transmission problems could be solved if a successful class action lawsuit from attorneys Bannister Law is successfully prosecuted. Bannister Law alleged the Ford Focus dual-clutch transmission - officially called the Powershift (presumably because 'PowerShit' was already taken) - is "defective" owing to its unreserved capacity for "slips, bucks, jerks and harshly engages when driven".
That's putting it mildly...
Ford has recently replaced the transmission in the current Focus (with a conventional automatic) but two of the other vehicles named in the lawsuit proposal - the Fiesta and EcoSport - still have this type of transmission.
The proposed lawsuit covers the following vehicles:
- Ford Focus (2010-14) / LW Focus 1.6 and 2.0 (2011-14)
- Fiesta (2012-13) / WT 1.6 and WZ 1.5 (2010-14)
- EcoSport vehicles (2012-13) / 1.5 (2013-14)
Bannister Law gave official notice to Ford Australia of its alleged breaches of the Australian Consumer Law and its intentions to commence a class action on Friday the 29th of April 2016. The firm commenced taking registrations and retainers from affected owners in its proposed class action on Monday the 2nd of May.
Charles Bannister, the principal of the law firm, is reported to have said: “Customers who’ve contacted us believe there is clearly a problem with this particular gearbox, some people have returned to dealerships to get their cars fixed up to 10 times for repair or replacement, while others are being asked to sign confidentiality agreements in order to get a refund. We believe these faults constitute major defects and trigger a full refund under Australian Consumer Law.”
WHAT'S THE PROBLEM WITH THE FORD FOCUS TRANSMISSION?
For five years now, the web has been knee-deep in anecdotal reports of exactly this issue, and it's been going on for a long time - far too many accounts of this kind of defect in the Focus are evident for this to be a few online crackpots sledging the Focus and/or Ford for kicks.
This is a real, tangible defect globally.
I'm hardly surprised Ford and its dealer is doing bugger-all to fix it. That's the North American style, and Australia's consumer law regulators are worse than just useless.
This video explains just how useless Australian Consumer Law is
This video Explains, in brief, the core issues surrounding Ford and its dealings with the Ford Focus transmission problem
There are essentially three Ford Focus transmission problems:
FORD FOCUS TRANSMISSION PROBLEM 1:
YOU'RE JUST NOT BEING TREATED LIKE A CUSTOMER
You own a Focus. You're a customer. It cost Ford something like $500-$1000 in (pro-rata) advertising to sell that car to you. You paid it. With a small amount of effort (not to mention doing the right thing morally and ethically) they would retain you as such into the future. But they are a bit too Dickensian to see that. Hubris is out of control in North American car companies - it's a consequence of being a protected species back in Dearborn.
Unfortunately, you're just not being treated like a customer. The upshot of this is: You're probably never going to buy another Ford, and you've been forced to drive a defective lemon for something like 18 months. This is exactly how owning a new car is not supposed to feel, and it is absolutely not your fault - you've apparently also been sold one of the biggest loads of bullshit I've heard for some time from a service department. The claims they commonly make are absurd.
- Bullshit sandwich #1: 'The transmission needs to adapt to you'
Transmissions do adapt to different driving styles. However, they do not shudder unless defective. Transmission adaptation will not remove the shudder or cause it. All it does is change the revs at which the shifts occur (higher revs for more assertive drivers, and lower revs for more conservative drivers). The adaptation is minor, and more of a marketing gimmick than anything else.
- Bullshit sandwich #1: 'More than one driver is confusing the transmission'
The dealership claiming that having more than one driver is causing or exacerbating the problem is totally preposterous. How many cars out there do you reckon have more than one driver? If this were the case, there is a serious design defect in play indeed. If having more than one driver can bring this on, there would be a warning in the owner's handbook to this effect: 'Warning - this is a one-driver vehicle only...' Absurd. You're being fed a load of BS to shut you up.
What's even more preposterous, however, is them not getting on it and fixing it. You bought a brand new car. This is a known defect. The least they could do is fix it - and they certainly know how.
BUY INSTEAD: HYUNDAI ELANTRA
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FORD FOCUS TRANSMISSION PROBLEM 2:
BEING GIVEN THE RUN-AROUND
Eighteen months. Several complaints. No remedy. And, insultingly, being told you don't have a problem. That's common, too. Assholes. Completely unacceptable. All they need to do is replace the clutch(es), or replace the transmission. It's that simple. Not a software update, or go back and test for shudder at a particular rpm, and have the service monkey perhaps drive deliberately in a manner that glosses over the problem and then dismiss you like: What are you talking about? Can't feel a thing... This is why some car dealerships and North American and German car companies generally have such a shitty reputation.
Sadly this kind of treatment is typical of Ford ownership, when there's a problem - North American car companies view customers with problems as an inconvenience to be dismissed as conveniently as possible. Like clockwork. It's undignified. And unprofessional. And unprincipled, arrogant, immoral and unethical. This is just one of the reasons why they have done so spectacularly poorly in Australia over the past five or six years. (That, and getting the product wrong.) It's also why I can't recommend Fords to prospective buyers, at least not with a clear conscience. North American car companies are profoundly disinclined to admit having problems - it's an institutional mindset, in which customers come second. All that appears to matter is next months sales - which is very short-term thinking indeed.
BUY INSTEAD: MAZDA3
Mazda3 features some of the best engine tech and chassis dynamics available in the market today. Remember what Honda was like in the 1990s? Mazda is Honda's 21st Century doppelganger
FORD FOCUS TRANSMISSION PROBLEM 3:
The Focus has - at best - delusions of adequacy overall. It doesn't measure up against direct competitors like the Toyota Corolla or Mazda3, or leading South Korean entrants like the Hyundai i30 or Kia Cerato, against criteria that really matters to mainstream car buyers - like reliability, customer service, performance, economy and warranty.
Although it drives somewhat like an automatic, your car actually has a dual-clutch transmission. The dual-clutch theory is neat: two geartrains in parallel: 1st, 3rd and 5th on one side and 2nd, 4th and 6th on the other. Let's say the car is accelerating in 3rd gear. The computer knows this because it measures the speed and the time and it measures the throttle position. It makes the following deduction based on these input signals. It says: Gunna need 4th gear next. So it pre-selects 4th on the side of the gearbox that's not doing the driving, and then when it's time to shift - bam! - quick as lightning it changes geartrains and it's already driving in 4th. Then, if you keep accelerating it pre-selects 5th on the unused 'odd numbered' side. If you start braking (for a bend, etc.) it pre-selects 3rd and shifts when appropriate.
This is a cool concept. I understand why engineers like it. (I used to be an engineer. I like it.) Shift times are really fast - just right for spirited, definite driving. But for family cars in traffic? Please. Dual-clutch transmissions only ever work well in definite driving situations (accelerating hard, decelerating hard...). When the car is just dicking around in traffic, it's often not so clear which gear is required next, and the computer gets terribly confused because you're on and off the gas, the inputs are gentle and indefinite, and it goes into 'transvestite mode' - and seems always to be in the wrong gear...
And then there's the technical complexity of making the machinery function durably. Conventional automatics (Mazda3, Hyundai i30, Kia Cerato, etc.) are 100 times better. The dual-clutch transmission has been a disaster for Audi and Volkswagen as well - but I agree that's probably not going to make you feel better about your defective Focus. Problematically, these transmissions commonly freefall backwards at the lights on hill start because there's no torque converter taking up the slack, as it would in a conventional auto. (Unless there's a hill-holder function built into the braking system.)
When you overlay Ford's traditional attention to getting the R&D details right (useless) and it's commitment to customer satisfaction (third-rate, as you have by now discovered) many customers find themselves in your situation: Seemingly adrift. This is why we need robust lemon laws in Australia.
CASE-STUDY 1: 'MALCOLM'
We have an 18-month-old Ford Focus Trend 2.0-litre automatic, purchased new. From day one the car shuddered much like a manual car under labour from incorrect gear selection. Sometimes it is minor and other times very pronounced and clunky. It's very noticeable in roundabouts or tight cornering.
At the first service the dealer said it was characteristic and the car needed several kilometres of use to detect the drivers driving habits. The software would then provide the correct information to control smooth driving.
We continued to complain and they continued to deny any problem. They also said that if more than one driver used the car this would exacerbate the issue - detecting driving habits. All of this sounds rubbish to me, I think it is a major design defect.
I have recently read some forums on the net - unfortunately too late for us - and this issue is very prevalent worldwide with various degrees of problems.
The dealer advised that Ford has issued a workshop directive for warranty repairs. If the shudder is not evident at a set rpm they do nothing except a software change. The next step is replacing a seal in the gearbox, and then a clutch replacement depending if oil leaking is determined.
Ford has extended the warranty for this issue but I feel this is not fixing the problem, just pushing it out. After the last service we complained again that the software update did nothing. The dealer drove the car without shudder so again dismissed the problem.
I noted that they were driving faster with more acceleration than we do. I suspect that this masks the issue. They also told us that VW and Audi have the same problem - to which I say: So what? Volkswagen's and Audi's problems don't make ours go away.
I really feel Ford has sold us a lemon. You expect a new car to drive smoothly. John, have you heard of this issue with the Focus? Any ideas on how we could get satisfaction? - Malcolm.
CASE-STUDY 2: 'JOE'
I was discussing Malcolm's Ford Focus transmission problems on air on Radio 2HD in Newcastle while, unbeknown to be, a listener named Joe took a special interest. The two cases have marked similarity.
"Hi John. Let me start off by saying that I enjoy your segment on 2HD. Now, I am having very similar problems as Malcolm with the Ford Focus. I was wondering if you have any feedback from the bigwigs at Ford?
"I have had my car in three times regarding this issue & only once they replaced one clutch motor but the problem is still there. Cessnock Ford have told me they have never come across this problem before... What crap. The engine light comes on at least once a week but Ford just say that there is a loose earth wire or some other crap.
"I guess what I am really asking for is some help or any assistance you can spare. It would be appreciated greatly. This is the first Ford I have ever purchased & I guarantee it will be the last! I would dearly love to get the i30 but after purchasing the Ford Focus I am no longer in a position to change cars.
Totally Frustrated." - Joe
So I tried to help Joe out. Here's what I told him:
"Thanks very much for listening on Newcastle’s 2HD and Sydney’s 2UE. It’s great to hear from you, but very unfortunate and frustrating that you have this problem.
"In my view you need to do two things:
- Get that useless dealer in Cessnock to fix the problem. It needs to be resolved - because you didn’t pay the big bucks for a defective car that can’t be fixed, apparently.
- Figure out a workable disposal strategy for the Focus.
"I will contact a senior executive at Ford on your behalf. (I did this for Malcolm yesterday, and the bloke I contacted got back to me straight away. So this looks positive initially - but it remains to be seen whether the problem actually gets resolved.) They will contact you, so please try to be as contactable by telephone as possible.
"Dealership service departments are notorious, outrageous liars when it comes to these kinds of issues - they often just don’t want to know - and Ford (like Holden and Volkswagen) is anything but a shining beacon of customer service excellence, in an industry that’s second-rate on this stuff overall. The fact is, that dual-clutch transmission is a lemon. Dual-clutch transmissions are great on racetracks, and useless in traffic, plus there has never been one that even comes close to a mediocre automatic on the durability front. It’s disgraceful - and automotive marketing departments still have the audacity to talk them up like they’re some kind of advantage...
"I appreciate the financial constraint of being locked in to a particular car, and how utterly demoralising it is when the car proves to be a lemon. However, I think you should talk to an independent car finance professional about your options. It may be easier and less painful than you think to bail out now and get yourself into a more reliable car. I’ll get a trusted contact in that area to call you ASAP - it won’t hurt to have the chat, even if it only confirms your initial assessment. Watch my video on the top six small cars to short-list here >>
"I hope this helps you see some light at the end of the tunnel, and thanks once again for listening on the radio."
So, once again I passed this matter to Ford's brand communications manager, Neil McDonald, who dutifully passed Joe's complaint on to their customer response team. And here's Joe's initial response to actually getting followed up:
"WOW.... Now that’s impressive! I didn’t expect to hear back from you so quickly, Thank you heaps. At the very least you have made me feel a bit better & you have also given me a little hope. Thank you. Kindest regards, Joe"
Here's what ultimately happened, according to Joe:
"Hi John, Just giving you an update on my Ford Focus. I have been contacted by Patricia from Ford and now she has left so now I believe the new contact name I have is Lisa Marie. I had the car in at Cessnock Ford for its 75,000km service yesterday and told them all the problems I am having with the transmission.
"The story has changed now. Now they are telling me that there is no problem with the Focus transmission and that Ford Australia tell them that with all the faults that show up it is within the guidelines as 'acceptable'. Like I stated earlier, the car was checked out yesterday. Lo and behold, they found nothing wrong with the transmission...
"They took it on an 8km test run (according to my trip meter) and they seem to think it’s fine. I came to an almost stop a few days ago then took off again and the car just revved like it was in neutral. I let the engine revs decrease then it was okay again.
"They seriously need to do something about this problem but I’m no one special so they won’t go out of their way to rectify this. I’m not blaming Cessnock Ford entirely now as they told me that Ford Aust make all the decisions on what to fix & what not to fix. I don’t know where to go from here as I’m back where I started. Any of your expert advice would be appreciated.
"Incidentally, I was given the Ford Focus Courtesy car yesterday and it was fine but I assume it was a 2014 model as it only had 10,000km on the clock & they had fixed the Transmission up a little since my 2012 model.
"Cheers," - Joe
The most worrying thing about this is the similarity of both Joe's and Malcolm's independent accounts in relation to the problems they've experienced and in the responses and treatments they have received from Ford.
Short of joining the Bannister Law class action, I'm at a loss as to where these chaps can go next. For everyone else, these incidents are big neon warning signs saying 'DON'T BUY A FORD'. Here's a car (the Focus) that seems highly likely to present significant, long-term problems, and when it does it seems that instead of fixing the issue you'll be met instead with a kind of institutionalised bastardry.
You really have to ask yourself: Is buying a Ford really worth the risk, especially when a Mazda3 is an objectively superior car?