The documents, relating to the then Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development’s investigation into whether Ford needed to issue a safety recall to fix the vehicles and released under Freedom of Information legislation, concluded there was “no evidence of a systemic safety issue or ADR non-compliance”.
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Of note, though, was the disparity between the number of complaints the government had received, and those logged by the car maker. “The department has received 47 complaints over a four-year period regards PowerShift transmission issues with Ford Focus, Fiesta and EcoSport,” the documents, dating to around August 2017, say. The transmissions were fitted to 73,140 Ford-badged cars supplied to the Australian market.
“The complaints include mild to severe clutch shudder, hesitation in selecting gears and skipping or missing gears,” they reveal. “Complainants were concerned for their safety as in many cases the vehicle would not behave as expected.”
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“Ford reported that as at November 2016 there were 203 cases involving PowerShift issues,” it said. That number had reduced somewhat from its peak earlier in the year. “In March of 2016 they number [sic] 947 cases, all of these cases are closed.”
The documents, released under Freedom of Information legislation, show the department had received only one report of a crash where the blame was directed at the PowerShift transmission. However “[Ford] has indicated that appropriate distances between vehicles is the main contributing factor, rather than any vehicle failure,” it said. “There is insufficient evidence to suggest there is a systemic safety issue resulting from the issues identified.”
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It said Ford’s “investigation, rectification and response” to the department – which included extensive service records for two vehicles – “is appropriate and appears to have resolved the issue”.
“It is recommended that you [the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development] agree to close the investigation,” the document, signed off by both a senior investigations officer and the director of regulatory policy, risk and compliance for the Vehicle Safety Standards office, says.
The department then offered to forward any more complaints it received to the car maker.
Industry insiders told Wheels it took only a single safety-related incident to spark an investigation into whether a voluntary recall was needed. Standard practice is for the Australian arm to then contact head office to see if other markets were reporting similar problems, prompting a much more involved investigation.
One source said it only took “about half a dozen” customer complaints to realise there was potentially a reliability issue with a vehicle and spark an investigation into whether a recall was needed – although these moved at a much slower pace to a safety-related inquiry.
Ford Australia told Wheels it had taken too long to identify the PowerShift issues, and acknowledged that it did not handle some complaints “appropriately”.
“We were overwhelmed with the volume of complaints and, while it was not intended, over a 10-month period our processes were inadequate and information provided was either inaccurate or incomplete,” spokeswoman Jasmine Mobarek said. “We let our customers down and for that we are sorry.
“We know this process has identified the challenges our customers faced and the lack of appropriate processes we have between May 2015 and February 2016 to effectively handle these. Our focus now is making right with these customers.”