When it comes to dual-clutch transmissions in regular passenger cars the road has been extremely rocky.
First, it was the well-publicised dramas with Volkswagen’s DSG technology and now the cluster f*#k that is Ford’s PowerShift transmission. It’s easy to see the parallels between each of these situations.
Each of these manufacturers played off the back foot, being reactive rather than proactive in addressing the concerns of their respective customers. But before we get into that, let’s go back a little further and ponder why the brains trust at Volkswagen and Ford elected to utilise this technology when other well-proven options were available and at their disposal.
For the vast majority of car buyers, a car is a tool, an object for a specific purpose. Emotion doesn’t always play a role in the purchasing decision, neither does driving dynamics, efficiency or practicality.
People who enjoy automotive engineering and cars in general, of course, think differently. In my experience, enthusiasts who are early adopters are more likely to exercise patience as kinks are ironed out of new technology.
Like socialism, in theory the dual-clutch should be a winner. In practice, not so much. There is no real need for a dual-clutch in a non-enthusiast model that’s predominantly used as a daily driver.
The unsexy torque converter is still the way to go. While dual-clutch transmissions have improved over the years, so has the traditional torque converter. ZF makes brilliant transmissions that are used in BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Maserati and Aston Martin. ZF units offer smooth and precise shifting in a package with proven reliability.
Rolling out next-generation transmission technology required time and a top down approach. It’s hard to escape the feeling a few steps in the process were missed by Volkswagen and Ford.
What is most alarming is the lack of explanation at the point of sale. Qualifying customers and educating them about what a dual-clutch transmission is all about seems to have been an afterthought. Buyers should always undertake their own due diligence, but the responsibility for ensuring the car is fit for purpose ultimately falls on dealership staff.
Compounding this is the way issues were dealt with by Volkswagen and Ford when problems began to arise in numbers high enough for them to be considered significant and widespread.
Levels of communication between dealers and head office were nothing short of dreadful. Volkswagen had to be dragged kicking and screaming to accept something needed to be done. Ford appears to not have been as blatant in distancing itself from transmission issues, but again, the response time was slow.
In Australia, car companies are very reluctant to give refunds when multiple failures occur, even if it's in their best interests. Take the very public spat between Jeep and Teg Sethi. Instead, of being proactive and simply refunding the customer, Jeep elected to argue the point resulting in Teg’s YouTube clip receiving over 2.5 million views that did untold damage to the brand’s reputation. As this situation was gathering steam, Jeep conceded and offered a refund. All that nonsense for no result could have been avoided by making a sensible commercial decision.
Car manufacturers spend enormous amounts of money on marketing and public relations only to piss all the effort up against the wall when there’s a problem. After the fact, sales of Jeep models in Australia have tanked and their new five-year warranty hasn’t been enough to turn the tide.
Nissan is another brand that responded slowly when its early versions of CVTs were malfunctioning in Muranos and X-Trail models.
This is a business where reputation can be everything, just look at the success of Toyota. Once burned, very few customers are likely to give you the benefit of the doubt.
Ford should have learned lessons from the Volkswagen situation, yet they didn’t. Ford’s efforts to put the genie back in the bottle following the ACCC initiating legal action is probably too little too late for customers who feel let down.
Where was Ford when Powershift problems first became apparent? This is an organisation with resources and reach. The PowerShift transmission has been in use in Australia since 2011 and dramas presented themselves early. Reading between the lines, Ford was aware of problems, yet a proper fix was only finalised in late 2016.
Fixing these issues and providing the best possible customer experience should have been at the forefront of the minds of Ford executives when information was being received at Ford central. Alarmingly, models equipped with PowerShift transmissions remained on sale.
Playing catch up after the horse has bolted with puff pieces in motoring publications is pointless. Problems, failures, issues – whatever you want to call them represent an opportunity to lock in a customer for life. When people feel ‘looked after’ confidence in the brand and its after sale service increase and the foundation of loyalty is established.
In the short term, Ford’s dual-clutch experiment looks to be over. The torque converter has made a comeback in the Focus.
This situation should reinforce to all manufacturers the importance of being proactive, not reactive and consider more carefully when and how new technology enters the market.  
Unfortunately, car companies are like insurance companies, you don’t know how good they are until a problem arises.
Let’s start a Car Conversation, has anyone been through the repair or refund process with Ford over the PowerShift transmission?
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