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Ford knew Focus, Fiesta models had flawed transmission, sold them anyway

Phoebe Wall Howard, Detroit Free Press on

Published in News & Features

Others believe the cars are dangerous, including thousands of vehicle owners, a leading consumer safety advocate and a longtime former Ford quality engineer who spoke to the Free Press. Federal regulators in 2014 conferred with Ford and declined to launch a formal investigation or order a recall of the transmissions.

Internal discussions persisted at Ford for years, at times becoming heated. Consumer blowback came quickly, with the first complaints about the transmissions filed with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration within months of the 2011 Fiesta going on sale. That model year Fiesta was the first vehicle with the DPS6, hitting the market in March 2010, followed by the 2012 Focus, which reached dealerships in March 2011.

Lawsuits on behalf of U.S. owners allege the company defrauded buyers. Ford denies the allegations, but made headlines after settling claims in Australia and Thailand.

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A high-level, confidential analysis by Ford in 2012 acknowledged rushing the cars to production, taking shortcuts to save money and apparently compromising quality protocols instituted with fanfare by then-CEO Alan Mulally. That review, obtained by the Free Press, also said the transmissions would be phased out and a different technology used going forward, but that didn't happen. The Focus went out of production after the 2018 model year; the 2019 Fiesta is the last of the line.

By the time of the 2012 review, which was labeled "Lessons Learned," Ford had sold more than half a million of the cars.

 

"There is no fix at this time," system testing engineer Tom Hamm wrote separately in an October 2012 email to four colleagues. "We have a task force working on the issue but they haven't identified any fixes at this time."

Among the documents the Free Press obtained is a presentation in which Ford told NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigations in 2014 that the problems occurred as vehicles aged. That contradicts internal emails, hundreds of consumer complaints about problems in both new and older cars, and an affidavit in 2018 by Ford's North American powertrain quality manager saying part of the issue was with transmissions "not yet broken in." The official also said in the affidavit that Ford learned of the problem in 2011.

But on Aug. 31, 2010, just six months before the 2012 Focus hit the market, product development engineer Tom Langeland emailed colleagues and supervisors describing "nasty launch judder" -- intense vibration from a stop -- that "did not clear up after many miles of driving."

"We also cannot achieve a driveable calibration that will get us to production," he wrote. "The clutch torque delivery MUST BE IMPROVED."

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