Ford Knew About Defective Transmissions for Years
Ford's DPS6 transmission, also called the Ford PowerShift transmission, is a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. It has been used in the Fiesta from 2010-present, the Focus from 2012-present, and several other cars during that same period. The Detroit Free Press launched an investigation that revealed that Ford knew about these problems, and yet still sold the transmission.
The Detroit Free Press estimates that there are about 1.5 million cars driving today with the defective transmission. In the years that the cars have been on sale, Ford has faced class-action lawsuits in the US, fines in Australia, and owner complaints. Despite this, while the Focus and Fiesta have had recalls for other defects, Ford has never recalled the transmission.
The Free Press claims that Ford ignored the warnings of a veteran engineer and the safety worries of its lawyers, and refused to make an expensive change in the transmission technology. One engineer reportedly said that the gearbox "must be improved" before being put on sale. However, Ford was trying to find a fix for five years. During that period, "Ford officials prepared talking points for dealers to tell customers that the cars operated normally when, in fact, internal documents are peppered with safety concerns and descriptions of the defects."
Ford said, in a statement to the Free Press, that these conversations during development were "challenges common to innovative new technology." Ford admitted that "after the new transmission was on the road, other problems developed. We acted quickly and determinedly to investigate the problems. While we eventually resolved the quality issues, the solutions were more complex and took longer than we expected. We regret the inconvenience and frustration that caused some consumers."
The Free Press analyzed complaints to federal safety officials, finding accounts of 50 unreported injuries linked to the transmission, as well as over 4300 entries about the unreliability of the transmission. However, it says that no deaths are known to be linked to the defect.
Ford has said that, although the cars can slip out of gear during driving, they do not pose a safety risk because power steering, braking, and safety systems continue to work. Ford's statement to the Free Press said that "vehicles in which DPS6 was installed were and remain safe."
In 2014, federal regulators talked with Ford and decided not to open an investigation on the transmissions. However, complaints had been filed with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) within the first months of the Fiesta being on sale. However, the NHTSA decided not to open an investigation or to issue a recall.
A confidential analysis made by Ford in 2012 acknowledged that the cars were being rushed to production, with shortcuts made to save money and ignoring quality protocols implemented by CEO Alan Mulally. That review also said that the transmissions would be phased out, but that did not happen.
Ford rushed the cars into production to take advantage of a booming market, fresh out of the recession. The project was done poorly from the start. The transmission was chosen 12 months later than normal, “limiting up-front engineering development time, resulting in ‘open’ deliverables at key program milestones,” per the same review. “At each early checkpoint, it became more apparent” that the transmissions “were not capable to meet customer expectations.”
An email sent to Ford from a Jacksonville, Florida, dealership said, “I’m tired of looking like the bad guy for repairing all these DPS6 transmissions, when truthfully Ford’s the bad guy here. Let’s be honest. Ford produces a horrible product and we trans guys get the wrath of it. My warranty clerk thinks I’m insane and it’s like pulling teeth to get paid for all the work we have to do on these things. The input shaft seals are only good for about 10K miles at best. And by replacing them as well as the clutch, the car’s only going to return again and again and again. I do 4 or 5 a week on average. I would love to know how Ford intends to fix this.”
Ford responded to Jalopnik, when they covered the story, claiming that the DPS6 was "brand-new technology designed for fuel economy," and that Ford believes they have fixed the issues. Company official T.R. Reid said, “We believe we brought a good product to market. We worked through some challenges in development, some issues developed subsequently, and we think we addressed them responsibly.”
He added that “These vehicles that are still on the road are safe, notwithstanding some issues took longer to address than we imagined, and we know it’s been a huge source of frustration for some consumers. We recognize that. 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.”