Ford launched and kept selling its Focus and Fiesta models, insisting they were safe even when their transmissions would slip into neutral on their own on the highway, an investigation has found—or make the car accelerate on its own into traffic. As long as everything else worked, drivers should be able to pull over to the side of the road without incident, the automaker said. The Detroit Free Press examined internal documents, emails and court filings that showed Ford engineers and managers trying to contain damage for years from the cars' dual-clutch, high-mileage transmission. The company ignored early warnings and declined once the issues were clear to make a costly change to the transmission. At least 1.5 million of the cars, which were launched for the 2010-11 model years, are still on the road. The 2019 model is the last Fiesta; the Focus ended with the 2018 model year.
Ford now faces thousands of angry customers, repair bills in the hundreds of millions, government investigations, and consumer litigation that is "increasing in all regions." Not counting litigation, "total quality related spending" for the manual transmission through 2020 could hit $3 billion, a 2016 internal report said, per the Free Press. Owners told the newspaper their horror stories: "My car would actually accelerate uphill in my parking garage. When I would let off the gas on the highway I’d go up to 10 mph faster on a flat road. My car would jerk forward at stoplights." "I literally got run off of the highway when the car shifted into drive and suddenly lost gear." Ford told the paper Wednesday in a statement that conversations during development about "challenges common to innovative new technology" were "normal exchanges." It said that many owners weren't used the transmission's feel and that more problems developed after the cars were on the road. The solutions took longer than expected, Ford said, adding, "We regret the inconvenience and frustration that caused some consumers." (Read more Ford Focus stories.)