Ford Motor Co. said Wednesday it is extending its warranty for 560,000 Focus and Fiesta cars and will reimburse owners who paid for repairs not covered by the previous warranty.
Ford said it would extend the warranty to seven years and 100,000 miles on “clutch and related materials” for 2014-16 Focus and 2014-15 Fiesta vehicles. In 2014, it extended the warranty on previous model year Fiestas and Focuses.
The vehicles are equipped with a dual-clutch transmission Ford called the DPS6 that was intended to provide the fuel economy and acceleration of a manual transmission with the operational ease of an automatic.
A Free Press investigation published last month found, through company documents and insider interviews, that Ford knew the transmissions were defective before putting them on the market and continued using them for years despite thousands of consumer complaints. Our “Out of Gear” investigation also found that Ford tentatively decided in 2011 to abandon the transmission but opted against that expensive change.
Detroit Free Press investigation: Ford knew Focus, Fiesta models had flawed transmission, sold them anyway
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Ford said Wednesday its actions were “independent of any media or litigation,” which includes a class-action case whose $35 million settlement is under review and about 13,000 other cases from vehicle owners who opted out of the class action. Former Ford CEO Mark Fields was deposed in one set of those cases last month.
“We noticed and uptick of clutch repair and out-of-pocket customer spending” among the affected vehicles, Dave Filipe, vice president of powertrain engineering, said in a conference call, citing the 2014 Focus as an example.
Ford declined to estimate the cost of the customer satisfaction action, saying that figure would be included in its third-quarter earnings report.
The transmissions, which boosted fuel economy to meet federal standards as gas prices spiked, were introduced in the 2011 model year Fiesta and 2012 Focus. They were used until the Focus was discontinued with the 2018 model year and until the 2019 Fiesta.
Ford says it believed the transmissions were sound when the vehicles were launched and insists the cars have always been safe. It acknowledges that it considered changing the transmission technology and says problems emerged after vehicles were on the road that were more complex and took longer to fix than it expected.
Ford said Wednesday that 2017-18 Focus and 2016-19 Fiesta have the latest software and hardware, are performing well and don’t require the extended warranty. The cars covered by Wednesday’s announcement originally carried five-year, 60,000-mile warranties on clutch parts.
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Calls for investigation
At least 1.5 million of the cars remain on U.S. roads, according to vehicle registrations. Owners report that many of the cars shift unevenly and sometimes shudder in alarming ways. Acceleration can be delayed, the transmissions can slip into neutral and many owners have reported cars lurching forward unexpectedly.
After publication of Out of Gear, three members of Congress called for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which declined to formally investigate the transmissions in 2014, to re-examine the situation. NHTSA said last month it is examining “all available information, including consumer complaints,” which a Free Press analysis showed total at least 4,300 and include reports of 50 injuries.
Filipe said Wednesday that Ford has been in recent contact with NHTSA and has had “no questions back from them.”
NHTSA said Wednesday that its review did not find “an unreasonable risk to safety.”
“NHTSA has reviewed recent complaints and other data associated with those issues,” the agency said in a statement. “Based on a review of this information, and other information including severity and frequency, NHTSA has not found evidence of an unreasonable risk to safety. The agency will continue to monitor complaints and other data, maintain communication with Ford, and take action as necessary.”
At the time of NHTSA’s 2014 review, Ford approved adding a dashboard warning light to tell drivers the transmission is at risk of malfunction, a move described in company documents as something that “will more easily satisfy NHTSA’s requirements.”
The cars have never been formally recalled for transmission issues. Ford contends that even if the vehicles slip into neutral and lose acceleration on a freeway, as many customers have described, it is not a safety hazard because power steering, brakes and other systems continue working, and drivers can safely navigate to the roadside.
Jason Levin, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Center for Auto Safety, issued a statement after Ford’s announcement Wednesday:
“Once again, Ford is continuing its tradition of using service updates instead of recalls when there are potential safety issues involved,” Levin said. “In doing so, Ford knows that fewer customers will get the proposed repair because there is no required notification process and no governmental oversight into how many repairs are completed. And of course, none of this makes whole those consumers who lost time and money by being sold a defective car.”
Ford said Wednesday it would “make it easy” for customers to get the repairs and also would proactively notify the 16% of affected vehicle owners who have not gotten that 2015 software update that includes the warning light.
The company noted that, in addition to the clutch warranty extension, all 2011-15 Fiestas and 2012-16 Focuses are covered for 10 years and 150,000 miles for the transmission control module, whose failure can cause the cars to default to neutral. 2008 emails regarding Ford lawyer and engineer discussions about the transmission note that defaulting to neutral is a “fail safe” state if the control module fails.
Ford said Focus and Fiesta owners with questions could call 833-805-3673 or contact their Ford dealer.
The day after the Free Press investigation was published, Ford offered a one-week repair program, telling dealers in a memo to fix Focuses and Fiestas that customers might bring into dealerships, but not telling owners of the offer.
Contact Randy Essex at REssex@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @randyessex. Read more on autos and sign up for our autos newsletter.