Ford’s Powershift transmission is most likely the company’s biggest mistake of the last decade. The dual clutch unit permanently damaged the reputation of the Fiesta and Focus, and is likely one of the top reasons why Ford opted to cancel both models for the American market. Several lawsuits from disgruntled owners morphed into a sizable class action case not too long ago, but the initial settlement is now being appealed by the plaintiffs, who argue that Ford knew about the problems early into the Powershift’s development. The judge overseeing the case recently ordered former CEO Mark Fields to testify about the transmission by July 31st. His testimony could have major implications for the company going forward.
Initially touted as the ideal solution for customers who wanted top notch fuel economy and a sporty driving experience, Ford’s dual clutch transmission quickly made headlines for the frustration it caused many customers. Although it debuted in 2010 on the 2011 model year Fiesta, the issues multiplied with the 2012 Focus, which was introduced one year later. Rumor has it that the Powershift is much more trouble prone in the Focus than in the Fiesta.
It’s likely that a portion of the complaints can be attributed to the public’s unfamiliarity with dual clutch transmissions, but for Ford, their units suffered numerous defects that still haven’t been fully resolved. Early builds suffered from leaky seals on the gearbox that allowed oil to enter the transmission, which is a “dry” dual clutch setup that shouldn’t have any fluids in certain areas. There were also problems with heat and the “clutch material” that led to about six revisions to the clutches themselves. The number of owners affected by these issues led to Ford extending the warranty on the input shaft seals, the clutches themselves, and any software calibrations necessary for an additional two years and 40,000 miles, which means that owners are covered for seven years and 100,000 miles total.
Aside from a separate problem with the Transmission Control Module, Ford hasn’t extended the warranty on later models, and Ford’s basic five year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty is most certainly starting to expire for the owners of 2014 and later units. That’s the reason why this lawsuit is rapidly gaining traction.
The initial settlement was reached in mid-2017 and was the uh, “focus” of an episode of Lehto’s Law, where he explained that the relief afforded to owners was actually pretty decent. But the settlement only applies to owners who can demonstrate they had to repeatedly bring their car back in for repair. And there was no admission by Ford of any wrongdoing, nor did they extend the warranty on the affected models.
But if Ford knew about the issues before the cars were released to the public, that opens up a whole new can of worms. Every single current and former owner of a Fiesta or Focus would likely qualify for relief. And Ford would likely be forced to initiate some type of buyback program or major warranty extension for those affected. Having the former CEO testify under oath could be the potential smoking gun that the plaintiff’s lawyers need to win the case. To make matters even more interesting, Fields might not have much incentive to defend his former employer, as he was unceremoniously fired after trying to pin the company’s poor stock performance on the extremely popular Joe Hinrichs, then President of the Americas. Hinrichs now serves as President of Ford and has been credited with Ford’s recent quality gains.
These developments are a bit personal for me, as I purchased a brand new 2013 Ford Focus SE with the Powershift transmission over six years ago. I have not had any issues with mine, but I’ve only put 25,000 miles on it so far. If my car doesn’t qualify for a clutch replacement (there’s a specific test for it) I’ll probably sell or trade it in on or shortly after February 2020, which is when my extended warranty expires. I’ve started a retrospective on the 2012-2018 Focus, which I’ll have out after I’ve completed this year’s NY auto show coverage, so stay tuned.
Ford isn’t the first company to experience issues with a dual clutch transmission. Volkswagen, Honda, FCA, and Hyundai have all had to issue service bulletins and/or revise their respective units over the last several years. But the Blue Oval clearly mishandled the situation, and now it’s entirely possible their ineptitude will come back to haunt them even more than it already has.
That is exactly why I skipped the Focus when I went car shopping. It hurt because i had a 2005 Focus that was a great car. Why ford had to monkey with that success. They should have just offered a stick shift for those that wanted sporty performance(which was probably 1% of all Focus buyers as most just wanted a small gas friendly point A to B car)
I know GM and Ford say small cars are dead but the truth is that small crappy cars (like the Focus and Cruze) are dead. Plenty of Civics, Fits, Corollas, Elantras and Fortes are being bought.
It is more proof that American OEMs cannot, for reasons not clear nor completely understood, build a quality small car, yet every other OEM can and does just that.
It all comes down to a fact that it costs about the same for an OEM to build a large or small car, and the profit margin in small cars is horrible for USA based OEMs. The American heritage is that small is cheap. A small car is thus a cheap car. They built small cars at a loss to get people into the brand and then move them up to the full sized higher margin cars. Europeans and Asians were used to smaller cars, and ownership of larger cars is both more expensive and more of a hassle in spaced starved cities of those areas. Those OEMs could build a more luxuriously appointed small car and make a good margin on it. They can sell you a stripped down or fully loaded small car, then move you up to a larger one, and all the while make decent profit.
I don’t know that the American OEMs will ever get this right. The time for sedans is quickly fading, and we see higher margins baked into the costs of CUVs built off the small car platforms. Maybe the US brand small CUVs will do as well or better than the foreign based ones, but I don’t know if the Americans will find another way to muck it up. They usually do.
I had zero problems on my 2012 Focus Titanium hatch. Two years, 5K miles isn’t much, but it was all stop/go town driving. Tight little car. Miss it.
ST and RS were manual-only, and the ST competed directly with the VW GTI and its’ well-regarded DSG. Ford probably knew by then that the PowerShift wouldn’t take any more power than they were already putting in it.
The base models had a higher-than-expected manual take rate, at least early on when they were all the buff books’ top-recommended compact, but are true unicorns used. I expect the resale value having the PS’ rep baked into it leads people to hold on to them.
If Mark Fields were smart, he’d answer: “Uh, what’s a transmission, Your Honor?”.
Mark could pull a Ronald Regan reply of “I don’t remember” as per the Iran-Contra Affair.
I feel like I have dodged a bullet.
My 2012 Focus (gone now) was a five speed manual.
My 2015 Transit Connect (essentially a box on Focus running gear) fortunately has a different six speed automatic – “6F-35” versus “DPS6” in the Focus/Fiesta.
This sums up the difference between Ford and, say, Honda. Honda turned out some very turdish automatic transmissions for several years in their V6 cars and vans. But Honda extended warranties and did significant goodwill discounts even for older vehicles that were not purchased new.
Ford takes the American way, which is to go down fighting. Yes, they will save some money, but how many customers will never darken a Ford showroom ever again?
Honda generally does offer more “goodwill” repairs for their customers. But to be fair, we are talking about the company that knew about the Takata air bag defects and hedged on recalling their cars until they were forced to by the government.
Ok, apparently it’s way more complicated than I made it out to be:
I would never buy a car with airbags. I don’t like them an am pleased to own a car without them.
As far as FORD’s transmission “issues” carmakers have always tried to gloss over their mistakes. Reading that article about the ill-fated Crosley automobile and their use post-WWII of the COBRA engine with the warned-of problems that were ignored. Ignoring known-about problems and going ahead anyway is rather common with the auto industry is it not?
I for one would not consider a Focus or Fiesta for that reason. There seems to be a lack of fundamental honesty, a lack of transparency, a lack of integrity about the whole affair. And if that is Ford’s mindset on the transmissions, it makes me wonder what other issues the cars may develop.
Dare I say, a blunder of GM-esque proportions.
Nissan did the same for the CVT in early-ish Murano’s. Our warranty was extended to at least 100k miles (maybe 120k?) without any input or negative issues on our part, not that I would know anything about how our particular car fared that many years into its life…But yes, while issues suck and preferably wouldn’t happen, a manufacturer that steps up to the plate and puts their name behind their product for a reasonable length of time gets brownie points.
I’ve met victims of Ford’s auto-tragic transmission. They need a good dealer with a strong relationship with a Ford corporate rep if they’re to get the transmission repaired well enough for the car to avoid the junk yard much past 100K miles. If Ford loses the court case, they should have to buy everyone who was denied repairs a new Corolla.
No customer should have to go through that.
Have you seen Kirsten Dunst’s cover? It will change your life.
Yes it will!
I encountered two happy high-mileage Focus owners this weekend, both hauling mountain bikes (they are not a common sight at trailheads). And both were stick shift.
I bought a 2012 Focus SE with a stick shift new back in November 2011, and it’s still my daily driver with about 80,000 miles on it. Other than some steering gear quackery when it was new, I’ve done only the most basic of maintenance on it. It’s not the greatest car ever made, but it gets 35 miles to the gallon and is faster than most, if not all, of my old cars.
It’s a shame they didn’t just use a regular old automatic, then maybe everyone would be OK with the Focus and we could have gotten the new one. Outside of Dearborn a few weeks ago, I saw a new Focus ST with a manufacturer plate, and it looked pretty sharp. No idea what it was doing on the freeway in America, since it’s not being sold here…
The irony is that in Europe, the Focus got a very fine conventional 6 speed automatic, as I found out when I rented one there last in 2016.
Yes, I had you in mind when I was writing this piece but wanted to avoid talking about it until my Future CC on the Focus. That conventional six speed was used in pretty much every front wheel drive based Ford vehicle in America for quite a while, and it has a decent reputation too. Every other vehicle on the Focus platform also used it. Very strange. There is also a variant of that six speed in the American Focus models that were equipped with the 1.0 liter EcoBoost engine.
My guess is that Ford didn’t want to spend the money to ramp up production of the 6F35 transmission and entered into an agreement with Getrag for the dual clutch, which they thought would end up saving them money. When they realized the transmission was flawed, the company simply thought they could develop a permanent fix, but that didn’t happen either, so they just tried to keep the issues as quiet as possible. It’ll be very interesting to see what revelations come out as a result of this court case, but the potential permanent solution may be the transmission your Focus used back in 2016.
“My guess is that Ford didn’t want to spend the money to ramp up production of the 6F35 transmission and entered into an agreement with Getrag for the dual clutch, which they thought would end up saving them money.”
Or was the dual-clutch unit an attempt to eke out some valuable MPGs in the EPA test cycle to boost its CAFE numbers in the US? I don’t know, just asking.
Yeah, that’s another angle. It’s certainly possible that the dual clutch allowed the Focus to achieve better fuel economy than the conventional six speed. It’s incredibly easy to achieve the EPA rating of 38 highway with my Focus, and on long road trips in ideal conditions it can surpass 40.
Dual clutch transmissions are all about CAFE/CO2 as the frictional losses are much lower than a traditional planetary automatic. The lower frictional losses of spur gears is the reason that Honda used them in their older transmissions.
That was my suspicion. Suddenly we are back to 1981 with a bunch of poorly-engineered, performance-hampering hacks to meet CAFE targets. Only with the revised CAFE formula it’s not just affecting the big cars this time.
Unless you bought the diesel which shares engines and transmissions with the PSA range and has the troublesome DSG type trans,
A friend has a Ford Mondeo with this transmission and the 1997cc PSA twin cam diesel he loves it and last time I saw him it was still going well, Fortunately Foci sold here were available in manual so if I was to buy a used one it would be TDI manual which by all accounts were a good little car.
This is true indeed, but only for the post face lift models… Pre face lifers have the dreaded 6DCT250 made by Getrag. Curiously enough, the same exact transmission is being used by other European auto makers (most prominently Renault, where it is known as the EDC transmission) without so many issues as Ford.
But at least it doesn’t slip out of Park …
I printed one of these on sticker paper, and stuck it on the dash of a friend’s Focus… She didn’t get the joke because of course she wasn’t born yet when these warning labels were new, so she never spent time in rusty LTD’s or Country Squires like I did when I was a kid… 🙂
Bought an ’81 Fairmont way, way back when that had one of those stickers on the dash… and it was a stick shift. Some tech at some unknown dealer had a weird sense of humor…
Thank you for the writeup, I found it enlightening. So only the focus and Fiesta uses this transmission right? In theory a manual transmission car should be fine; right? Not saying I am looking forward to scads of these cars ending up in the junkyard over the next decade or on the side of the road, but it will be interesting like how 10-15 year old Nissans are showing up more and more.
NIssan’s CVT debacle isn’t as well known, but is just as bad.
I work part time for a company that inventories parts departments and every Nissan dealer we count has stacks of CVT cores awaiting pickup. The worst I’ve seen was a west side suburban Cleveland dealer that had 32 CVT cores piled up in the back.
Our ’13 Fiesta Powershift hatch just left our driveway today, permanently. But not due to a bad tranny; it got pummeled during an overnight hail storm several weeks ago and the insurance company totaled it.
We bought it new for our son to have a reliable, economical car at college, and after he graduated our daughter drove through her high school years. It proved reliable through all of that youthful abuse and neglect. I was well aware of the Powershift issues during our ownership, and it had been to the dealer early on for a recall or two concerning the transmission, but that was pretty much it.
In the end I’d say we got our money’s worth out of it, especially counting the insurance settlement which was a lot more than it was worth on trade or in a private sale. I guess we had a good one. Or at least a “not bad” one.
So the 3 cylinder Focus with an automatic transmission uses a different transmission? I would buy a Focus or Fiesta, but in my area 95% or more of the cars at dealers are equipped with the PowerShift. My niece had a Focus with the PowerShift, bought new when Ford was trying to boost sales the first time, but after 3 unsuccessful trips to the dealer…her mother forced the dealer to take it back. My niece now drives a Corolla and will probably never consider a Ford again.
Yes, it’s a variant of the six speed found in other Ford models.
The Focus started out as a great small car long ago. Then Ford had to mess around with power train options and the suspension some. It reached a point some years back that any non-manual Focus was suspect. Main reason why it couldn’t be considered when my wife got her 2018 Mazda 3 which I should write about. As for me my 2004 Focus ZTS is still a daily driver which I need to write a COAL about as it is a truly great little car. I wish I had a fleet of them.
I’m furious about this whole situation. I, like many others, was rooting for Ford after the 2008-2009 financial crisis. There was an outpouring of public goodwill towards Ford and they seemed to have a fresh start in America. The fantastic new Focus and Fiesta was coming over from Europe. Surely lessons would have been learned; especially transmission-wise. Ford would be redeemed, their spotty past forgiven, and all they had to do was NOT produce crap.
They produced crap. Lots of it. High-profile crap. Worldwide. They found away to squander everything in a big way, in the form of dual clutch transmissions.
Even GM, when their CVT program went sideways in the Vue, they quickly replaced it with a traditional automatic.
This is infuriating, and everyone responsible for the PowerShift debacle should be held responsible.
The problem with Ford is that they have refused to properly address issues since the early 2000’s. Right now the F-150, which has been produced for 5 years in its current form, has ongoing problems with door latches freezing open and shut in the winter. Something that should be elementary to correct and infuriating to customers who simply don’t expect such a thing to be a problem in 2019. There are quite literally millions of these out there spreading ill will towards the one vehicle that Ford can’t afford to screw up. The 2018+ 5.0 V8 has major issues with the VVT and its block. The old 5.4 also had major VVT issues as well as perhaps the worst sparkplugs of all time. These issues never seem to get fixed they just let them ride until the next redesign. How Ford handled the PowerShift is right in line with what I’d expect from them.
Every manufacturer makes mistakes. I don’t know if Ford really makes that many more than anybody else, and I do give them some credit for trying innovative ideas, but I am pretty sure nobody cares less about fixing them.
I feel bad for Powershift Focus owners, like Aaron65 our 5-speed 2013 is not the greatest vehicle ever, but it gets the job done without fuss.
We’ve had our share of engineering screw ups at work, but we’re only dealing with a few machines, not hundreds of thousands. Might be hard to sleep at night with that hanging over my head.
Give the choice I would have rather purchased a brand new 2001 Focus over the 2013 Focus we bought in 2017.
I will add that the other six speed automatic transmission (6F-35) in my Transit Connect has been reliable but not likable. In city driving, for which the TC was intended, it is just fine. It is overly busy and picks gears I wouldn’t when trying to cope with Raton Pass or the hills up from Scottsdale to Payson. I don’t like it and would have chosen a manual but of course that was not an option on a TC.
The luck I have in not getting the DPS6 may be due to the larger engine in the TC or the fact that it was manufactured in Spain.
I have a 2012 Focus and my transmission is full of problems. I am driving it as a Ford mechanic suggest on u tube. It seems to have cleared up some of the problems. I hope it stays as it is running today. I am waiting for the court to decide what is going to be solution. The car is nice. Just waiting for a better transmission..
I’ve driven two Ford rentals with the PowerShift. I’ve seen enough through my brief experiences to concur with the general consensus regarding these transmissions.
When they function properly, they work beautifully, executing lightning fast shifts while delivering stellar mileage. The first one I drove was a brand new Fiesta SE with all of 2,000 miles. It was taut and responsive, and plunked down 44 mpg on the interstate.
My second encounter with the PowerShift was less than positive. I had rented a car for a trip to Gatlinburg, and was handed the keys to a ’15 Focus SE with 38,000 on the odo. From the moment I got it out on the road, I noticed how it shifted up from 1st to 2nd with a violent shudder. Now what I should have done was driven right back to the rental counter and demanded a car that wasn’t defective. But fool that I am, I had convinced myself that this impediment was of little concern on a highway trip, where the transmission would mostly remain locked in 6th.
Of course, the inevitable happened on the return trip, less than 100 miles from home on a Sunday night. Transmission went into a limp-home mode, and I had to pull over on the side of the highway. I tried restarting the car, even went so far as to disconnect the battery, all to no avail. I wound up waiting hours for a tow truck to take me and the stricken Focus back home.
So like many good ideas ‘in theory’, the reality here proved to be less than the sum of the parts.
Ford snatches defeat from the jaws of victory…we had a 2005 Focus SE sedan that turned out to be a very reliable car. We eventually traded it (in July 2016) for a Ford Escape. The Focus had 235,000 miles on the odometer.
When the new generation of Focus debuted, I took a brief test drive in one at the Harrisburg Auto Show (Ford was offering test drives of various new vehicles). The car itself felt upscale – a step up from the previous generation Focus. But in 2012 we weren’t ready to buy a new vehicle.
By the time we were ready to buy a new vehicle, the word was out about this transmission. It’s a shame, as the transmission is a major blot on otherwise nice car. My wife chose the Escape, while I traded my 2003 Accord (269,000 miles) for a 2017 Civic EX-T.
These are like Ford’s version of a Honda. If you want a boring automatic, then you bought the wrong vehicle in the first place.
I have a 2013 Focus, but with a manual. Every single time I have brought it into the dealer for regular maintenance, I’ve had a conversation with someone in the waiting room who owned a dual-clutch Focus that had major problems with it. It’s a real shame that such a good little car got tarnished by this, and now they’re gone from the American market.
When we traded in our 28 month old 2012 Fiesta, with 59, 825km it had consumed
1. 6 clutch kits
2. 3 servo kits
3. 2 transmission control modules
4. 4 seal kits
5. Valve cover gasket set
6. Camshaft seal kit and timing belt
7. Head gasket set (including another valve cover gasket, camshaft gaskets and timing belt)
8. A set of spark plugs degraded by extreme spark detonation
9. $15,000 CAD in tow charges and rental car bills
Assuming Ford Canada’s labor rate to the local dealer, and ball parking the “jobber” cost of parts, the total repair bill on this car was well north of $50,000. Plus the other shit that broke, was damaged at the dealer (rocker panel vs tire off a Super Duty).
I ended up losing money on the car, and traded it on a ’15 Fiesta SE loaded to the gills which has provided 4 years and 72,000 km of fun, sporty driving while sipping fuel at about 30 mpg around town and 40+ on the highway with 3 heavy right feet in the household.
Our 2017 Kia Soul is a square, blue toaster. An automotive appliance built solely for putting shit in and moving it. But it hasn’t broke.
I am of two minds about this generation Focus having owned 2 (an SE 5MT and an ST 6MT obvi) and co-owned 1 (an SE with a powershit).
My 2013 SE was a wonderful little car and the 5 speed was brilliant, I’d come out of a difficult Kia and so just about everything would have been better. The quality of the materials was decent; I never felt that the manufacturer cheapened it in a cynical attempt to get me up a trim level. My ST felt much the same way.
Then the Buick my mom drove shuffled off this mortal coil after my friend and I attempted to replace a head gasket (2003 Century with the red putty). We went looking for cars. See the Buick was mine anyway so it’s not like mom was out a ton of money. We went to the dealer and found a CPO 2017 Focus with powershit; my mom is uncomfortable driving a manual so those were non-starters and the Fusion was too expensive. Mom always tended toward Ford when given an option.
This was the first time I’d had an opportunity to drive the powershift. It was course, noisy, jiggly. I looked the sales guy in the face and said I preferred to put mom in a pretty 2012 American special Focus, but there wasn’t one. Mom was okay with it, though she knew my reservations. You can’t swing a dead cat without stumbling across a horror story about the powershift. The sales guy tried to allay my reticence by telling me Ford had allegedly solved the issue. Long story short, we bought the car. Didn’t have real issues, but I was always worried as mom started driving for Uber and Lyft. The interior materials felt cheap and nasty, even compared to just 4 model years prior; the 2017 did feel like a cynical attempt to get you to pony up for “leather” and additional kit.
It proved to be a bit too small for the purpose so we ran into the loving arms of a Mazda3 with a torque converter. It is so much quieter and more refined while getting better mileage.
I also had several friends with powershit Focuses and Fiestas. One had the a clutch pack or clutch packs replaced in her Focusore than once the other turned in her leased Fiesta and the dealer asked her how long she’d been operating with three gears; she didn’t know what he meant.
My manual Focuses were brilliant and I should have kept them; I tend to be a serial monogamist with my cars and trade frequently. I couldn’t wait to be free of the powershit; it was an uglier car for its transmission.