Ford facing court over car fault response
Car maker Ford Australia is embroiled in a legal stoush over allegations it misled customers about transmission issues in several of its models and blamed drivers for the problem.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is taking legal action against Ford Australia over its handling of customers who had problems with its Focus, Fiesta and EcoSport vehicles with a PowerShift transmission bought between 2011 and 2016.
About half of 70,000 cars sold had at least one repair relating to the transmission, the ACCC says, with customers complaining about excessive shuddering and jerking when accelerating, loss of gear selection, sudden loss of power and excessive noise.
The ACCC has also alleged Ford "misrepresented" to customers that problems were caused by the driver's handling of the vehicle, despite the company being aware of "systemic issues" from at least 2013.
Ford Australia chief executive Graeme Whickman said it was wrong to suggest it had blamed drivers for the transmission problems.
"The transmission actually learns and adapts to a driver ... but it was never our intent to suggest that the customer was at fault," he said.
ACCC chairman Rod Sims alleges from 2011 to May 2015, Ford refused to provide a refund or replacement vehicle to most buyers even after multiple repairs had failed to fix the problem.
The ACCC also alleges that from May 2015 until at least November 2016, Ford told customers they could only get a replacement car if they paid towards the new vehicle under an "owner loyalty program" introduced in response to complaints.
It alleges that as of July last year, more than 800 customers had paid on average around $7,000 towards replacement cars, totalling more than $6.5 million.
The ACCC's Federal Court action alleges Ford "engaged in unconscionable and misleading or deceptive conduct" in handling customer complaints.
Mr Whickman said the company would fight the allegations.
"At no point did we seek to deny customers' their rights under Australian consumer law," he said.
Mr Whickman said a Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development investigation had found there was no safety issue related to the cars involved.
He said his own mother drives a 2011 Fiesta and he has assured her it is safe.
The ACCC alleges Ford also onsold vehicles returned under the owner loyalty program without disclosing the problems to the new buyers.
Mr Whickman said Ford Australia does not on-sell returned vehicles without completing any work to ensure they meet technical and warranty specifications.
He said repairs were available on PowerShift transmission issues and all new cars on the market have the latest updates.
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