Ford knew Focus, Fiesta models had flawed transmission, sold them anyway

“Four thousand complaints would certainly get our attention. That’s too many to ignore,” said Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer advocacy group. “Incidents involving an inability to accelerate suggests that the threat is not just to owners of these vehicles but others on the road. It suggests a callousness towards life. Fact is, unintentionally losing power on the highway can lead to crash deaths. It’s not good. It’s not safe.”

Ford Motor Co. knowingly launched two low-priced, fuel-efficient cars with defective transmissions and continued selling the troubled Focus and Fiesta despite thousands of complaints and an avalanche of repairs, a Free Press investigation found.

The cars, many of which randomly lose power on freeways and have unexpectedly bolted into intersections, were put on sale in 2010-11 as the nation emerged from the Great Recession. At least 1.5 million remain on the road and continue to torment their owners — and Ford.

The automaker pushed past company lawyers’ early safety questions and a veteran development engineer’s warning that the cars weren’t roadworthy, internal emails and documents show. Ford then declined, after the depth of the problem was obvious, to make an expensive change in the transmission technology.

Instead, the company kept trying to find a fix for the faulty transmission for five years while complaints and costs piled up. In the interim, Ford officials prepared talking points for dealers to tell customers that the cars operated normally when, in fact, internal documents are peppered with safety concerns and descriptions of the defects.

The automaker faces thousands of angry customers, including former loyalists who say they will never buy another Ford; hundreds of millions in repair costs, many times without actually fixing the cars; and litigation so serious the company this spring warned investors of the financial threat posed by defects in what Ford called its DPS6 transmission. 

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