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July 12, 2019

Internal Documents Show Ford Knew That PowerShift Dual Clutch Transmission was Flawed

History is now repeating itself for Ford. After battling image/design issues (and losing) in the 1970s with the Pinto, the American carmaker is now finding itself doing pretty much the same thing, this time with the Fiesta and Focus’s flawed dual clutch transmission.

An investigative report from The Detroit Free Press paints an unsavory picture of the Ford DPS6 dual clutch transmission (aka PowerShift) including Ford’s knowledge that the cars they’ll be installed in will end up being problematic, and their subsequent refusal to make an expensive change in the transmission technology.

The publication gained access to a high-level confidential analysis by Ford in 2012 acknowledging that the Fiesta and Focus were rushed into production, taking shortcuts along the way to save money, and that the transmission was supposed to be short-lived, replaced by a new technology going forward. This didn’t happen.

As early as 2008, Ford lawyers told engineers that they were wary about the safety of the dual-clutch technology which had encountered problems during early use by Volkswagen in Europe. At the time, the lawyers note the transmission’s tendency to slip out of gear. Weirdly enough, it was Ford’s quality supervisor who responded that “stalling alone is not hazardous.” What’s worse, in the coming years the so-called gear slippage problem was never fixed.

Just 6 months before the Focus went on sale, a Ford product development engineer described his experience with the transmission as “a nasty launch judder that did not clear up after many miles of driving.” Furthermore, he said, “we also cannot achieve a drivable calibration that will get us to production. The clutch torque delivery MUST BE IMPROVED.” [emphasis from the email]. Regardless, the Focus was shipped out with a promise to come up with a “permanent resolution.”

The internal 2012 review pointed out that the problems stemming from the DPS6 transmission was due to the lack of development time. The selection of the transmission, for instance, was done 12 months later than normal limiting prototype verification, launch readiness, and mass production. And as the vehicle neared towards launch, the “issues increased rather than declined.”

Furthermore, a Ford engineer said, “design and release engineers, calibration development engineers, manufacturing engineers, customer service engineers and transmission engineers all knew the transmissions were bad but kept it quiet.”

When the Fiesta and Focus launched, Ford simply passed the buck to customers, telling them they didn’t understand how the cars worked or know how to properly operate them. In reality, Ford were aware of the problems, sending engineers to investigate customer complaints calling it a “safety issue.”

In 2014, Ford opted to extend the warranty on the transmissions and created a six-page “talking points” guide to help dealers work with customers. Included there? Ford’s decision not to “proactively communicate with the press.”

Two years later, Ford’s internal update notes that 350,000 vehicles have already been repaired more than 3 times in the U.S. alone and that complaints to the National Highway Transport Safety Administration (NHTSA) are 50 percent higher in a shorter period than the exhaust gas leak complaint on the Ford Explorer.

In Australia, Ford has already lost its case there and was slapped with the largest corporate fine due to the company’s “unconscionable conduct” in handling problems with the EcoSport’s dual clutch transmission. The same can be said in Thailand where courts there ruled in favor of 291 Ford Fiesta and Focus owners, slapping a USD 720,000 (~ P 37.59 million) fine against the American carmaker.

Now, as Ford faces what could be the biggest suit from the defective transmission, not only are they warning their investors of the financial threat, but they are facing thousands of angry customers, including loyalists who say they will never buy a Ford again. And that could have a longer lasting effect than any lawsuit.

Source: The Detroit Free Press

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