MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - More than 7,000 current or former Ford Fiesta and Focus owners have joined a Michigan-based mass action lawsuit, alleging their vehicles have defective transmissions.
The lawsuit, filed by Ken Stern of Stern Law PLLC, alleges the PowerShift transmissions in Focus models from 2012-2016 and Fiesta models from 2011-2016 are exhibiting symptoms the suit describes as "...shuddering, slipping, bucking, jerking, hesitation while changing gears, premature internal wear,
delays in downshifting and, in some cases, sudden or delayed acceleration." According to the suit, Ford has issued more than 20 technical service bulletins (TSBs) acknowledging potential problems with the transmissions, but has not voluntarily recalled them for repair.
"Ford must be held accountable for design and manufacturing defects of the PowerShift transmission that have compromised the safety of the vehicles and cost owners significant loss in vehicle value, reliable transportation and time," Stern said.
Christina Shealy of Proctor, Arkansas, is one of the plaintiffs. Dealer service records revealed her 2014 Ford Focus has been in the shop four times in six months for the same jerking, stuttering and shaking symptoms. "I feel like I might get rear-ended or something," Shealy said.
She also said her Ford service adviser told her the symptoms are normal, and she should accelerate quickly from a stopped position to prevent the shaking. "Just drive it (on a city street) like I normally would on the interstate, and it would learn to adapt to my driving habits," she said. "He essentially told me to drive faster on a city street."
WMC Action News 5's Andy Wise had a similar experience with a 2014 Ford Focus he leases. It exhibited the same symptoms described in the lawsuit. When he took it to a Ford dealership for repair, both his service adviser and the dealership's general manager told him the symptoms are inherent in some Focus models. The general manager told him Ford has advised his staff to tell Focus owners to "drive them like they stole them" to eliminate any shaking or stuttering (EDITOR'S NOTE: Wise is not a plaintiff in the mass action, nor does he intend to join it).
"It begins to sound like a coordinated communication," Stern said. "Ford, through its dealerships, is consistently communicating a message that this problem is either in your head, that it's typical, that it's usual, just get used to it...or accelerate quickly from a stopped position. And you may wonder, 'Why would you tell me to accelerate quickly from a stopped position?' This feels very much like a coordinated effort that could be a highly deceptive practice that would concern us."
"Ford is committed to providing our customers with top-quality vehicles," Ford's Legal Communications Manager Brad Carroll wrote in an email statement to the WMC Action News 5 Investigators. "We cannot comment on pending litigation."
In a search of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) recall and auto defect complaint database, we found hundreds of complaints about Ford Focus and Fiesta transmissions. Many of them mirror the symptoms outlined in the mass action, but as of yet, federal regulators have not issued a mandatory recall. NHTSA Public Affairs Officer Derrell Lyles said the agency has issued five "customer satisfaction campaigns" regarding certain Focus and Fiesta transmission control modules (TSMs) and clutch shudders. "The agency is aware of the referenced complaints and will continue to monitor the situation as warranted," Lyles wrote in an email.
Stern said more than 200 Tennessee owners of Ford Focuses or Fiestas are plaintiffs in the suit. He said he's asking Ford to essentially buy back their vehicles, giving the owners full refunds. Stern said he is not charging his plaintiffs any legal fees. Consumers interested in more information about the mass action can review its dedicated website or its Facebook page.