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Ford Fiesta, Focus transmission problems: 'Everybody knew,' workers say

Sven Gustafson

Seven current and former employees who worked on the Ford Fiesta and Focus cars caught in a mounting scandal over defective transmissions told the Detroit Free Press that despite the problem being well-known and understood before the cars went on sale, the company discouraged employees from speaking up to voice concerns. The employees said they feared losing their jobs.

The issue concerns the DPS6 dual-clutch PowerShift six-speed transmission featured in 2 million Fiesta and Focus cars first launched in 2011 and 2012, respectively. The transmission was first of its kind for Ford in the U.S., and it used a dry-clutch system that proved incapable of cooling itself, leading to failure.

“We’d raise our hands and be told, ‘Don’t be naysayers,’” one of the engineers told the Freep. “We got strange comments. It seemed the ship had sailed. After that, if you ask questions, you’re accused of mutiny, so you put your head down and make it work. Good people tried to make it work. But you can’t violate the laws of physics. It’s a mechanical catastrophe.”

Focus and Fiesta owners have filed more than 4,300 complaints with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Freep says the defective cars have stuck Ford with an estimated $3 billion in warranty costs, plus mounting legal expenses from thousands of lawsuits that are still playing out in court. The U.S. Justice Department has also opened a probe into the automaker’s conduct in the matter dating to 2010.

Meanwhile, a federal court in California is weighing whether a $35 million class-action settlement is fair to owners, and about 13,000 individual lawsuits are pending.

“No one knew how it was even considered — and then implemented — in the Focus and Fiesta,” one engineer said, describing how engineers knew the friction coefficient was “inconsistent” with a dry clutch.

“But they got to this point in the product development cycle where Ford realized they passed the point of no return. They spent a ton of money, and here’s this giant problem.”

There's much more in the full Freep report.