Comical cliche at the centre of Ford class action lawsuit

By Rebecca Sullivan

The class action lawsuit alleges the cars are not of acceptable quality, as defined under Australian Consumer Law. Photo / Getty Images
The class action lawsuit alleges the cars are not of acceptable quality, as defined under Australian Consumer Law. Photo / Getty Images

It's a cliche so worn, it's almost comical - women are bad drivers.

That old stereotype is at the centre of a potential billion-dollar class action case against Ford over 70,000 allegedly dodgy cars.

Thousands of disgruntled Ford customers will begin legal proceedings today against the company, accusing it of misleading and deceptive conduct in selling 22 different models of Fiesta, Focus and EcoSport vehicles between 2011 and this year.

The affected models are equipped with the Ford PowerShift transmission, which promises to deliver "acceleration much smoother than a conventional automatic".

"The dual clutch transmission has some of the features of a manual gearbox but it drives like an automatic," AutoExpert's John Cadogan said.

"It's meant to function exactly like an automatic."

But cars with Ford PowerShift transmission have been nicknamed "shutterboxes" by unhappy customers because they shudder and jerk unexpectedly.

When Leanne Glasser first drove the Ford Fiesta PowerShift she bought for her daughter Dani's 17th birthday in 2010, she knew something was wrong.

"The car would shudder at the intersection. You couldn't make a turn confidently because you didn't know what it was going to do," Glasser told news.com.au.

"My husband tried [driving the car] and he wasn't happy. He phoned Ford and they said, 'No, it's fine. It just needs to learn the driver'. We thought that was odd," she said.

Dani, now 22, had just acquired her licence and was nervous about driving the car, but persevered for three years, avoiding long trips and highways.

"Then one day, the car stalled mid-drive," Glasser said. "It went from 60km/h to 10km/h while my daughter was driving on a busy road. The guy behind her nearly hit her and he got out of the car and he was furious with her.

"She was on the side of the road shaking and crying. She wouldn't drive the car because she didn't feel safe."

During multiple conversations with Ford staff, both Mr and Mrs Glasser were told their daughter's driving ability was the problem.

"I said to Ford, 'My daughter's life is in your hands'. They said 'It's the way you have to drive the car. You're not understanding how the car drives, it needs to learn the driver'. We'll never touch a Ford again," Glasser said.

She's now one of the plaintiffs in the class action case launching on Wednesday by Bannister Law.

"Ford customers are disappointed at the way they are being treated when they report the problems with their transmissions and gearboxes to their dealers," said Diane Chapman from Bannister Law.

"Overwhelmingly, they are being told they are not driving their vehicles properly, that it is their fault and they are being made to feel stupid."

I felt like because I was a women they were suggesting that a) my driving is poor and b) I must not know how a car works. It was not until my fiance (male) took the car in and spoke to them that they even acknowledge the issue.

On the Ford Class Action Facebook page, other women claim they have also been told their driving is the cause of their car problems.

"I fought with them for 10 months about it and I was belittled and made to feel like an idiot," one woman wrote.

"Comments like 'it's probably the way you drive' and 'let me explain to you how a gearbox works', like I'm some kind of idiot. I felt like because I was a women they were suggesting that a) my driving is poor and b) I must not know how a car works. It was not until my fiance (male) took the car in and spoke to them that they even acknowledge the issue."

News.com.au understands these are not isolated cases and several other female plaintiffs were told similar things by Ford staff.

In a statement to news.com.au, a Ford spokeswoman defended the company's PowerShift technology.

"Ford's PowerShift transmission uses an advanced configuration that provides exceptional powertrain efficiency, along with the potential for unique shift feel compared with conventional automatics," she said.

There are significant loads on car transmissions and they need to be designed for durability. These transmissions are absolutely not compatible with that concept in mind.

"While we cannot comment on ongoing litigation we encourage customers to work with their local dealers on their individual circumstances."

But Cadogan says Ford's PowerShift transmission is a new engineering idea they "managed not to perfect".

"The problem lies with the clutch packs in the transmissions. The packs are under-engineered and they keep failing," he said.

"There are significant loads on car transmissions and they need to be designed for durability. These transmissions are absolutely not compatible with that concept in mind."

The class action case against Ford is built on the experience of a Victorian woman Billie Capic who was "frightened for her life" after a power loss while driving her 2012 Focus Sport in February this year.

The $29,000 car had already lost power a number of times in 2015. In October, she was unable to change gears or use reverse without difficulty. A fortnight later, she was unable to drive the vehicle faster than 80km/h. The vehicle was shaking. Then an error message showed on the dash: "Transmission overheating."

Capic also experienced uncontrolled movement of the car, sudden gear changes and gear-skipping.

The class action lawsuit alleges the cars are not of acceptable quality, as defined under Australian Consumer Law and that Ford knew of the problems. The vehicles have never been recalled.

The action seeks refunds or the difference between the purchase price and the true value of the vehicles, as well as aggravated damages.

The cost of refunding 70,000 cars at an average price of $25,000 would be $1.75 billion.

- news.com.au

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