FORD Australia encouraged government officials to jump behind the wheel of one of its repaired PowerShift cars to convince them that a fix for the flood of customer complaints was working, documents show.
The vehicle, which Ford bought back from a customer who no longer wanted it, was driven by Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development staffers at Ford’s Campbellfield campus late last year. They came away convinced that Ford’s repairs to the PowerShift gearboxes were working, documents released under Freedom of Information legislation show.
PowerShift papers part one: Ford PowerShift recall was unnecessary, government finds
The documents also include a letter sent from Ford Australia to the departmental staff in August 2017 relating to the government’s investigation into faulty PowerShift transmissions, and questions raised over how effective the car maker’s repairs were in fixing the problems experienced in two vehicles.
“Ford has identified [redacted] issues, and is implementing fixes, but does not believe the matter warrants a voluntary safety recall,” a briefing paper sent to the director of the Vehicle Safety Standards’ regulatory policy, risk and compliance section says.
“Ford Australia has offered for the department to witness the testing and diagnosis that is undertaken by Ford and its dealers to determine the repairs required to vehicles,” the briefing paper says. It then went on to say Ford had “bought back one of the affected vehicles and this vehicle can be made available for evaluation of the effectiveness of the repairs undertaken”.
The cause of the transmission problems, spelled out in Ford’s letter, are redacted from the documents.
However, the documents do reveal that the department sought more information from Ford on claims that the dual-clutch transmissions were temporarily losing drive, and more reports from owners that Ford’s fixes “had not resolved the issues”.
PowerShift papers part two: Ford swamped with PowerShift complaints
Government representatives then drove three test cars, where a department official said they “had the opportunity to sample the vehicles as well”. “This was important, as I was able to feel what a faulty vehicle felt like,” the official said.
The same report also says that by mid-September, 2017, a software flash “that the department was aware of” was “currently at 86 percent rectification of the 72,000-vehicle population”.
“All vehicle owners have been contacted and encouraged to return vehicles for the software update,” the briefing says. “In addition, owners have been sent information highlighting the correct manner in which to drive vehicles. This information highlights that left-foot braking is not conducive of correct transmission operation for this type of vehicle.”
Department officials then concluded that Ford’s remedial action was “satisfactory for the vehicle behaviours present. If a vehicle owner presents their vehicle when the symptoms first appear there should be no issues affecting safety”.
Ford Australia said it worked closely with the department “as the safety of our customers is a top priority”.
“We gave DIRD officials the opportunity to drive a repaired Powershift vehicle, to demonstrate that the fixes available address the known product quality issues, spokeswoman Jasmine Mobarek said.