Thousands of angry customers, millions of dollars in repairs, and some serious safety questions were the fallout from Ford’s decision to sell its Focus and Fiesta models with defective transmissions for years on end, a Detroit Free Press investigation concludes. The problem stems from the PowerShift six-speed automatic transmission. Many of the transmissions had issues randomly slipping out of gear at speed, sputtering, and sudden acceleration.
Ford fitted the DPS6 transmission in Focus and Fiesta models starting in 2010. According to the Free Press investigation, as many as 1.5 million affected cars are still on the road. Ford reportedly ignored the advice of company lawyers and engineers who argued the cars had serious problems. What’s more, Ford then declined in 2012 to change the transmission to another unit, instead opting to try and fix the problems with the PowerShift automatic.
One such e-mail the Free Press published from August 2010 said, “With the present state of affairs, we cannot achieve a stable calibration for conduction our 3-months-late clutch sign-off testing. We also cannot achieve a driveable (sic) calibration that will get us to production. The clutch torque delivery MUST BE IMPROVED!” The e-mail also described situations such as “nasty launch judder” during calibration testing.
The investigation also covers complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Focus and Fiesta owners reported serious injuries as a result of the defective transmissions. Owners wrote time and again, “I was lucky I wasn’t killed”. The Free Press follows the case of a driver in Saginaw, Michigan who was injured when his 2012 Focus that he had driven just 500 miles from new accelerated into traffic while after he came to a stop:
“I was stopped at a parking lot exit waiting to enter a thoroughfare, engine idling, with my foot lightly on the brake. Suddenly, the car accelerated forward, into the traffic lane, as though someone had pressed the accelerator pedal to the floor. I took a 45 mph T-bone on my driver’s side door.”
That particular driver credited the airbag for saving his life, while his wife suffered severe heart bruising from the seat belt in the crash. Other owners also reached out to share their experiences. “What is it going to take? Does someone have to die before they get these cars fixed?”, one said. “I put my life in danger every day I get behind the wheel of this car to go to work,” said another.
“I put my trust in this company”
That same owner claimed she had taken her 2015 Ford Focus in for repair 10 times. “I’ve got a $5,000 car note left. It’s almost paid off. I’ve owned a Ford Escort, a Ford Explorer, a Ford Fusion and several Mustangs. I’ve put my trust in this company.” According to the Free Press report, Ford’s 2016 internal update on the DPS6 transmission problem showed that 350,000 affected cars had already reached three or more repairs in the U.S.
Back in May, 1.9 million Focus and Fiesta owners took Ford to court for the PowerShift transmission issue. The legal filings specifically mentioned 2012 – 2016 Focus models and 2011 – 2016 Fiesta models. Cars equipped with the transmission were prone to “shuddering, slipping, bucking, jerking, hesitation while changing gears, premature internal wear, delays in downshifting and, in some cases, sudden or delayed acceleration.”
Internal documents show many within Ford who were aware of the problem as far back as 2008, and were concerned about safety with these models. Ford promoted the transmission as the U.S. navigated out of the 2008 financial crisis as a way to promote better fuel economy, and saving money for the consumer. A 2011 news release said, “With gasoline already more than $4 per gallon in some American cities, the new fuel-saving dual dry-clutch Ford PowerShift six-speed automatic is the right transmission at the right time.” Ford touted the transmission’s ability to mix the fuel economy with a manual with the ease of use of an automatic.
The company provided its own statement to the Free Press on the DPS6 transmission. It said, in part, “Based on the rigorous testing during development, we were confident in the transmission and our ability to address any quality issues that might arise with the new technology. Some consumers, accustomed to traditional automatic transmissions, found the shifting pattern of the new, fuel-efficient automatic transmission unusual and raised questions with their dealers.”
Overseas, Ford paid a $10 million AUD (about $7 million USD) fine to the Australian government for “unconscionable” treatment of customers when they complained about transmission issues. In September 2018, a Bangkok civil court handed down a 23 million baht (about $750,000) ruling against Ford to compensate owners.
While Ford told owners the transmission issues were “normal”, they were fighting the supplier. In March 2014, senior purchasing manager Thomas Miller contended Getrag was to blame for the defects. “Our involvement is one focused only on manufacturing the DPS6, not the design. Getrag … owns the design and Ford is not allowed to even have the component drawings for the DPS6. As Ford believes strongly this is a design failure, Getrag should reimburse Ford for 100% … we need to be clear where the responsibility lies.”
The current situation
Ford told the Free Press that it “acted quickly and determinedly to investigate the problems, alert dealers, recommend and pay for repairs, and extend warranties” on the transmission. “While we have addressed quality problems with the transmission, vehicles in which it was installed remain safe.”
A Ford Spokesperson also provided Jalopnik an official comment on the investigation. T.R. Reid said that the DPS6 was “brand new technology”, and Ford has addressed the issues. “As problems presented themselves, we thought we could address those problems and did eventually. We thought we’d be able to address them more quickly, in retrospect.”
If you own one of these vehicles, it’s worth bringing yourself up to speed on the current legal disputes Ford faces. If you have concerns, you may also want to get in touch with your Ford dealer, and you can file a complaint with the NHTSA.