- The 2011–2016 Ford Fiesta and the 2012–2016 Focus have a dual-clutch automatic transmission that is the subject of a class-action lawsuit and many individual lawsuits.
- Nearly two million people who have owned or leased one of the cars with the PowerShift transmission stand to get at least some repayment for their trouble.
- The settlement is currently being appealed in federal court.
UPDATE 7/11/19: According to internal documents, as reported today by the Detroit Free Press, Ford knew of the PowerShift transmission's inherent problems before production started but went ahead with it, telling dealers "to tell customers that the cars operated normally" when it knew they were problematic. The paper published an email sent in August 2010 by a product development engineer to his supervisors and colleagues in which he said that testers could not "achieve a drivable calibration that will get us to production. The clutch torque delivery MUST BE IMPROVED!" That was six months before the 2012 Focus went on the market, the paper noted.
By now it is a well-publicized issue that Ford's PowerShift dual-clutch automatic transmission has caused problems for owners of several model years of its Fiesta and Focus cars. Now, nearly two million customers stand to get repayment for their trouble in a class-action lawsuit settlement currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals, and it could cost Ford in the billions.
The Ford PowerShift transmission in question is found in 2011–2016 Fiesta and 2012–2016 Focus cars. As described by owners of the vehicles, the primary, recurrent issues are a shuddering feeling while accelerating from a stop—like someone who can't feather the clutch properly on a stick shift—followed by a rough 1-2 upshift that again sends a vibration throughout the vehicle. Owners have reported replacing clutches, output shafts, and entire transmissions. They've come back for software updates. More often than not, as described by owners we've spoken to and on forums across the internet, the problems reappear even after service technicians claim the transmission is within normal factory limits.
What's the Problem?
In place of a conventional automatic's torque converter, this dual-clutch six-speed transmission uses two clutch packs to couple the engine to the transmission—one that's engaged when an odd gear is selected, the other for evens. Dual-clutch gearboxes typically deliver improved fuel economy and faster shifts than a traditional automatic. But these transmissions also tend to slip the clutch like a manual when getting off the line and can shift rougher than a torque-converter automatic. Exacerbating these undesirable traits, the Ford uses dry clutches in the interest of efficiency. Wet clutches, which bathe the friction discs in hydraulic fluid, offer smoother engagement. It's no coincidence that the better dual-clutch transmissions—such as those used by Audi, BMW, Porsche, and Volkswagen—use wet clutches. In the case of the Ford transmission, many owners simply weren’t used to dual-clutch transmission feel. But in the U.S. and across the world, this transmission’s history of needing frequent repairs has been well documented.
What Has Ford Done about It?
Since its European introduction 10 years ago, Ford has issued more than 20 technical service bulletins addressing problems with the PowerShift, code-named DPS6.
In 2014, Ford extended the powertrain warranty on affected Fiesta and Focus models by an extra two years or 40,000 miles, to seven years or 100,000 miles total.
Ford first modified the PowerShift transmission in 2012 after the automaker's scores in J.D. Power and Consumer Reports surveys dropped. But these issues didn't go away until Ford began getting sued in 2017. According to then Ford Australia president Graeme Whickman, speaking to CarAdvice in July 2017, Ford made several improvements to the PowerShift transmission on vehicles after the 2016 model year. That's not to say customers have never since reported a similar issue, but by and large, it hasn't affected a dramatic spread of owners as did earlier models.
With $35 million involved in the pending class-action settlement in California, that's not much money in the pipeline for the estimated 1.6 million current and 400,000 former owners of these cars in the United States, many of whose vehicles have needed multiple service visits and sometimes, multiple new transmissions. Most owners affected by these transmission problems might get a few hundred dollars and a coupon toward the purchase of a new Ford. The public interest group Public Citizen argued that the proposed $35 million figure is too low, representing a "sweet deal" for the automaker. However, the maximum $4 billion liability Ford faces from this lawsuit is theoretical—every owner would have to file, and each of their cars would have had to be repaired eight times to be eligible for the maximum cash payment, which is capped at $2325 per class-action suit member.
That's why a Michigan firm is suing Ford individually for roughly 20,000 owners who opted out of that original class-action lawsuit. The firm, Stern Law, has based its suits on consumer protection legislation, including state lemon laws and the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, and claims it will deliver more money per person than the class-action suit. The cases are pending. Individuals have indeed sued Ford for the PowerShift transmission, as reported by the Free Press, and have won settlements of amounts of three times or more what their cars were worth brand new. The majority of these individual state lawsuits have been transferred to the California class action as part of multi-district litigation rulings.
The automaker failed to overturn a class-action lawsuit in Thailand in September 2018—reportedly the first class-action suit against a foreign company in Thai history—that paid nearly 300 owners a combined $730,000 for defective Focus and Fiesta transmissions. Ford also issued a formal apology for "the inconvenience caused by the PowerShift transmission problems" and promised to "work earnestly to take responsibility for fixing them according to our customer service procedures," according to the Detroit News.
Earlier in 2018, Ford was fined $7.5 million by Australia's consumer protection division for "unconscionable and misleading or deceptive conduct" relating to repairs for the PowerShift. When the case was filed in 2017, Whickman admitted to CarAdvice that the company didn't help its customers the way it should have. "We don’t set out to give [a] poor experience to our customers," he said.
What Owners Can Do
It's too late to join the Michigan lawsuit unless you had already elected to opt out of the pending Ford class-action settlement before September 5, 2017. By default, everyone named in a class-action lawsuit is assumed to accept all of the terms, with or without their knowledge, so once a settlement is paid an owner cannot later sue individually for the same allegations. Any individual suit at this point is likely to be transferred to the class-action suit.
However, regardless of whether you had warranty service done or you paid out of pocket, the class-action suit will award between $200 and $2375 per person and between $400 and $4650 in discounts toward the price of a new Ford, depending on how many service visits the car needed for parts replacements within the transmission. For software updates only, the settlement will pay $50 for each service visit up to $600. Ford will also buy back certain cars if the settlement arbitrator approves the claim, although it will not buy back cars older than six years.
If you own or lease (or ever owned or leased) one of the subject vehicles, you need to file a claim, as you are automatically part of the class if you have not previously opted out.
Clifford Atiyeh is a reporter and photographer for Car and Driver, specializing in business, government, and litigation news. He is vice president of the New England Motor Press Association and committed to saving both manuals and old Volvos.