Ford and the long arm of the law

WHILE Ford Australia has been hit with a $10 million fine over the poor way it attended to numerous complaints by owners of its Focus, Fiesta and EcoSport models, the parent company in the US could be looking at lawsuits reaching billions of dollars.

In an unusual twist, a law firm in California is trying to undo an earlier class-action in pursuit of much bigger payday for consumers.

It’s all about the rubbish, so-called Powershift dual-clutch automatic transmission in Focus and Fiesta models of 2011 to 2016 that led to shuddering, slipping, slow or harsh gear changes and/or clutch problems.

Australia had only about 75,000 of these lemons, but in Trumpland (actually Obamaland at the time) ownership amounted to nearly 2 million.  

Litigation surrounding the transmissions has gone on for years, with Ford finally settling with owners in a $35 million ($A51m) class-action lawsuit.

However, in the latest move, a non-profit legal outfit called Public Citizen claims Ford was well aware of the faulty transmissions and then lied to buyers to cover up the issue.

The carmaker might now be looking at a liability of some $4 billion (about $A5.8 billion in our money).

Ford says the original settlement was fair.

“We deny the allegations in this lawsuit, but rather than continuing with the litigation, Ford entered into a settlement agreement with lawyers representing these plaintiffs.

“That settlement is fair and appropriate and we look forward to final court approval.”

Public Citizen’s Michael Kirkpatrick said a $35 million hit would be a sweet deal for Ford, but not for the unfortunate owners of the faulty cars.

He’s trying to convince judges to toss out the settlement, citing poor behaviour from Ford.

One example includes a 2014 Focus that Ford allegedly “induced” the individual into buying.

Three days later, the car was brought back for repairs.

However, nothing fixed the wonky transmission, so the owner asked for a refund — but Ford refused.

Then, just days before the owner’s case received a trial jury, Ford admitted it broke America’s lemon laws.

The owner was awarded $550,000 for one case, which makes the $35 million settlement look slim in comparison.

There are another 1200 cases pending in California alone, and 12,300 owners have joined a mass-action after declining to participate in the class-action lawsuit.

Kirkpatrick believes Ford could be facing settlements, fines, and buybacks worth $4 billion if owners secure a win in court.

Ford later dropped the Powershift transmission and fitted the cars with regular six-speed automatics.

Focus . . . one of the cars at the centre of the dispute.

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