Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Farley has said repeatedly his team is working to build loyalty, treat customers like family and compete in the rapidly developing all-electric race for domination. But bad experiences continue with current Ford Focus and Ford Fiesta owners with defective cars who say the company ghosts customers while they wait weeks and months for repairs.
This is not about a supply chain disruption as much as ignoring customers left without transportation. Customers say it would be helpful if Ford could be proactive about managing expectations for people whose vehicles were purchased years ago with defective parts. If a vehicle is going to be in the shop for six months, let customers know rather than make them call or text or email constantly requesting updates.
After all, Ford created the huge demand for these specific parts needed for defective Ford Focus and Fiesta cars and knew of the need to replace them long before the COVID-19 pandemic paralyzed orders and delivery. The faulty transmission control module, or TCM, is also competing with every other product seeking chips, which are essential to making smartphones, appliances, medical equipment, computers and anything that depends on semiconductor technology.
"When you have ongoing problems not getting resolved, it matters," he said. "It takes years to build up a good reputation and very little time to tear it down," said John McElroy, auto industry veteran and host of the "Autoline After Hours" podcast and webcast. "To rebuild a reputation is time consuming and expensive."
Longtime customers who support the Dearborn automaker find themselves buying competitors' products.
Randy Blankinship of Midwest City, Oklahoma, waited as his 2014 Focus sat in the shop four months for that critical part. He went and bought a Chevy Trailblazer while waiting.
Molly Augustin of Robbinsdale, Minnesota, paid $125 to have her 2012 Ford Focus towed to her dealership in July, then parked in a storage lot with similar vehicles awaiting a parts replacement, she said. And that's not all.
"Battery was shot when I came to collect my vehicle; they hadn’t bothered to run it for the several months it was in their custody. I’ve since purchased and installed a new battery," she said. "Counting down the days until my 2023 Subaru Forester is ready at the end of January."
Griffin Shumway of White River Junction, Vermont, took his 2012 Focus to the shop repeatedly and was told it was fine. He then learned a week after the extended warranty expired in June that it was not fine. It has been at the dealership for repair since July. He is now waiting patiently.
"I'm hoping for April," he said.
Theirs are just a few of more than two dozen experiencesthe Detroit Free Press, part of the USA TODAY Network, has chronicled in recent weeks as a follow-up to its "Out of Gear" investigation on defective parts afflicting 2012-16 Focus and 2011-16 Fiesta compact cars and the class-action court settlement that followed. A number of Ford customers said dealerships declined to help them with repairs, a situation that was reported previously.
Out of Gear: Follow the full Ford investigation
The investigation revealed for the first time internal company documents and emails showing the Dearborn automaker knew the dual-clutch "Powershift" (DPS6) transmissions on the entry-level vehicles, built over the last decade, were defective from the start but the company continued building and selling them anyway as customers spent thousands on repairs.
Ford customers claimed in legal filings the vehicles were built with faulty transmissions prone to a host of problems, some potentially dangerous.
These hot selling low-cost cars were marketed to entry-level buyers on a tight budget, often retirees and students.
'Plagued by numerous problems'
Farley, who took the helm as CEO on Oct. 1, 2020, has said publicly and told investor analysts repeatedly that improving quality is a top priority. He recruited a quality czar in January, made changes in his executive team in November.
In June, four owners of the 2017-19 Fiesta and 2017-18 Focus sued Ford, alleging the vehicles have the same unfixable transmission defects as earlier models that led to hundreds of millions of dollars in class-action settlement payments.
The owners claim Ford withheld important information when marketing its DPS6 transmission as a fuel-efficient alternative to a traditional manual or automatic transmission — intended to provide the convenience of an automatic and the fuel efficiency of a manually shifted vehicle.
However, the vehicles are "plagued by numerous problems and safety concerns … transmission slips, bucking, kicking, jerking, harsh engagement, premature internal wear, sudden acceleration, delay in downshifts, delayed acceleration, difficulty stopping the vehicle, and eventually catastrophic transmission failure," said the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.
Ford transmissions:Ford workers break their silence on faulty transmissions: 'Everybody knew'
The Dearborn automaker has since discontinued making the vehicles.
It's difficult to grasp the size of the repair delay problem, given that Ford won't provide details and no one collects such data. The company estimated that thousands of TCM units are ordered and shipping weekly to get these repairs done. Focus and Fiesta owners continue to turn in their vehicles for repair, so orders continue to grow.
A customer in Texas provided to the Free Press an email exchange dated Oct. 21, signed by a Ford dispute resolution specialist, that said "over 50,000 TCMs on backorder due to national chip shortage."
While Ford declined to comment on the specific order total, the company acknowledged the challenge.
The Ford Focus, Fiesta class-action lawsuit, filed in 2012, was settled in 2020 with 2 million U.S. consumers — with 1.5 million vehicles registered.
"We know this is an issue for our customers and we’ve been trying desperately to get the needed (transmission control) modules for their cars," Ford spokesman Said Deep told the Free Press this week.
"We meet weekly with our suppliers to give guidance on timing for parts so these repairs can be completed as quickly as possible, as the entire auto industry continues to work through global microchip and commodity challenges. We’re asking customers to contact our Customer Relationship Center and speak with a representative who can help determine any additional support possible as they wait to have their cars serviced by our dealers."
He provided the number 800-392-3673 for customers needing help.
Frustrated Ford Customers share their stories
In recent months and weeks, customers describe struggling for resolution with the company.
Danielle Seaman, 21, of Chesterfield Township, Michigan, is a student earning a master's degree who drives back and forth to Michigan State University in her 2012 Focus. It broke midway during a 10-hour trip east. Getting it fixed isn't the issue because it just keeps breaking due to the defective part, she said. "It's been a bit of a disaster."
She waited a year for the TCM, then paid $550 because Ford diagnosed the problem a week after her warranty expired, she said. Updates didn't work. "I tried contacting people higher up in Ford and no one could help me."
Their stories are different and yet similar. Some are angry. They don't have the money to front high rental costs for months with promises for a partial reimbursement. They borrow from family to pay for Uber and Lyft.
Griffin Shumway, teacher
Griffin Shumway, 33, a middle school teacher from White River Junction, Vermont, couldn't start his 2012 Focus in July, so he let it rest and tried again. A mechanic couldn't figure out the problem. A few weeks later, the car broke down just as Shumway exited a highway. He had the car towed to a Ford dealer and learned the problem was a broken TCM.
"Less than a month after my warranty expired," he said. "I had done several tests at the dealership while still under warranty, and all of them came back not bad enough.
"I spent hours on the phone with Ford trying to figure out why they wouldn’t help at all. It ran out of warranty, I think June 10th. I first had the issue July 4th," Shumway said. "Now I’m waiting 'til hell freezes over to get my car back. I don’t make enough to buy a new car in this market."
He forwarded an email from a "customer experience specialist, Ford passenger vehicle team" that instructed customers to contact Ford by sending letters via U.S. mail to the Ford Customer Relationships Center in Dearborn.
Stuart Brown, IT systems administrator
Stuart Brown, 56, of Berrytown, Kansas, said his 2016 Ford Focus has been sitting since early May in a dealership service center lot in Lawrence, Kansas, waiting for a TCM part to become available. He had the vehicle towed there.
"We bought the car brand new and have had it now for six years, so after six months of being down that’s the equivalent of a full month of being broken down for each year that we have owned it," he said. "I do not believe that we will ever buy another Ford product again."
His wife calls Ford customer service periodically, getting no updates or information on when the TCM part may become available. Ford didn't respond to a letter or email from Brown, who said he contacted his state attorney general.
"Pretty much no one wants to help or cares about those of us who are dealing with this issue," Brown said.
"The end of this month, December, will mark eight months of waiting," he told the Free Press. "If a TCM has not become available by the spring of 2023 I will likely have the car towed home and will attempt to fix it myself. ... How much worse could I make it considering it’s not drivable as it is now anyway."
Molly Augustin, advertising copywriter
Molly Augustin, 32, of Robbinsdale, Minnesota, sent her 2012 Focus to the Ford dealership in August with a failed TCM. Despite having no access to the vehicle, state law required her to keep $54-a-month insurance while she also paid for Uber and Lyft vehicles.
After the first week, she learned that she was one of nearly two dozen waiting for the part that would cost her $200 initially and more after it was installed. By Sept. 7, Augustin learned only two of 20 Ford Focus vehicles in the shop had been repaired. A month later, she reached out to Subaru to buy another vehicle. She still had to pay $1,055.46 for the Ford repairs, according to a receipt provided to the Free Press for review.
"I have moved through all five stages of grief, I think," she said.
Randy Blankinship, certified public accountant
Randy Blankinship, 73, lives not far from Choctaw, Oklahoma. One day, he and his wife had to push their 2014 Focus out of the driveway because it wouldn't reverse. They drove straight to the dealership. They learned they had to replace the TCM. The clutch had gone out. They paid nearly $1,900 for that nine months earlier and it was again back at the shop, Blankinship noted, providing a copy of the receipt for review.
"I loved that car until I didn't. Ford let us down so bad," he said. "They're not doing right by their customers as far as I'm concerned. I'm gonna carry a grudge for a long time against Ford. It's all been so inconvenient for us. My wife was getting rides from people. I borrowed a car from my daughter. The Ford dealer won't talk to you about any of it."
At the dealership, Blankinship said he'll never forget the discussion he had. "I asked the service guy, when was the last time you completed a repair like this?' And he said, 'I can't tell you. I can't remember the last time.' They have 18 to 20 cars sitting on their lot waiting for the same repair."
In early November, Ford let Blankinship know his vehicle was ready for pickup.
"I talked the dealership into buying it from us. They tried to negotiate the price down because the clutches in the transmission were causing that now-famous shuttering from a start. I reminded them that they had replaced the clutches, at our ... expense, only nine months prior to our bringing the car in for the TCM problem. We settled on a price that was about $1,000 less than the blue book estimated value for trade in. I actually feel lucky to be rid of it and to have gotten the price we got," Blankinship said.
When he's on social media, Blankinship said he pastes this warning: "Before you buy any Ford, you should check out what Ford is doing to owners of 2011-2016 Ford Fiesta and 2012-2016 Ford Focus vehicles that are equipped with a PowerShift Transmission and were originally sold in the United States and its territories. BC Ford knowingly used failure-prone transmissions they were forced by class action lawsuit to extend the warranty on these vehicles. Ford is taking unreasonably long, sometimes over six months, to make these repairs. Ford buyers beware!"
Mark Leary, retired firefighter
Mark Leary, 47, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, supplements his retirement from firefighting by delivering food for Uber Eats, Grubhub and DoorDash in the middle of the night. Leary counts on his 2014 Focus with 66,000 miles.
"This has really messed me up," he said. "I had just dropped off a food order and the car wouldn't go into gear. Thank goodness I wasn't on a busy highway. I put it in neutral and pushed to the side. The gear shifts wouldn’t match up with what the computer was saying. Then it wouldn’t start again."
In mid-July, Leary had his car towed to Ford. They said it fell under the 150,000 miles or 10-year warranty program.
"But they had no clue when they were getting the TCMs," he said. And because they were calling his situation a customer satisfaction service instead of a recall, he didn't qualify for more than a one-day car rental.
"Then they pretty much ghosted me," said Leary, who continued to pay car insurance and the property registration fees. He waited for calls from Ford customer service.
He had his clutch replaced multiple times, as did thousands of others. And he didn't take part in the class-action, he said, because he wanted to believe Ford would take care of people.
"I mean, you don't leave a car sitting there for three months. There's wear and tear just sitting there," he said. "You need to make sure the brakes aren't rusting up. It's just a nightmare. I'm lucky my mortgage and car are paid off. But at 66,000 miles, I wouldn't think a part of the transmission would go bad. Worst customer service I have ever received."
After hearing nothing for weeks, Leary said, the dealership called Monday and said, "Great news! We have your TCM in stock. We can have it done by tomorrow!"
They told him the vehicle, after sitting in the lot from July to December, needed a new battery with an estimated cost of $250 with labor. He decided to buy one himself and go over to install it at the dealership.
When Leary arrived at the lot on Tuesday, he found his dirty Focus was missing a tire and up on a broken cement block.
"I laughed out loud at the absurdity of the situation when I was shown that my car was missing a tire," he told the Free Press. "The accumulation of dirt, bird droppings, and tree sap is severe. (The dealership) said they would have it cleaned. They also say they will use the rims and tires from an abandoned car to make my car complete again."
Ford disclosed in January 2020 the dollar amount the company had spent repurchasing defective Focus and Fiesta vehicles through its voluntary arbitration program conducted during the legal appeal. G. Keith Barron, reacquired program vehicle manager at Ford, said in a court document that between October 2017 and the end of 2019, Ford bought back 2,666 defective Focus and Fiesta vehicles for approximately $47,477,327. That was the one and only time a figure has been disclosed, and that was at the beginning.
After waiting since July, Leary said, it'll be nice to have his car back in time for Christmas.
Contact Phoebe Wall Howard: 313-618-1034 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @phoebesaid.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Focus, Fiesta customers fed up — and many are leaving Ford for good