From a consumer perspective, it was pleasing to finally see some accountability land on the doorstep at Ford last week.
The often criticised Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) scored a win on behalf of Ford customers after commencing legal proceedings all the way back in July 2017.
It turns out Ford's response to customer concerns and complaints about the Fiesta, Focus and EcoSport fitted with the PowerShift transmission were not handled to the letter of the law.
Local consumer laws are embarrassingly lightweight when compared to other developed countries. In saying that, things have improved since 2011, however, some car manufacturers have frequently taken it upon themselves to ignore the legislation.
We have said before, in Australia, car companies are very reluctant to give refunds or replace cars when multiple failures occur, even if it's in their best interests.
Ford is just the latest brand to wear a very public slap for not responding properly when things went wrong. The Federal Court ordered Ford pay a penalty of $10 million and costs. There is also a review process that could result in millions more heading to customers who were dudded.
On top of the initial expense, how much damage has Ford done to its brand in Australia? Does anyone think Ford has played any stage of this saga well?
“Ford’s $10 million penalty is one of the largest handed down under the Australian Consumer Law and reflects the seriousness of Ford’s conduct. Ford knew that its vehicles had three separate quality issues, but dealt with affected customers in a way which the Court has declared to be unconscionable,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.
When you consider the court’s determination that Ford ‘engaged in unconscionable conduct' the penalty may not be adequate.
Regularly referred to as a toothless tiger, the ACCC is scoring some genuine wins in recent times. Holden was forced to examine and improve its response to customer complaints.
Pleasingly, Hyundai is working with the ACCC in a voluntary capacity to ensure compliance with consumer law to achieve better outcomes for customers. This is the way things should be done.
Properly resourcing the ACCC has never been at the forefront of the federal government’s priority list. Without the appropriate budget, it’s hard to go toe-to-toe with large multination corporations.
Regardless of how stacked the deck might be, the ACCC is now wielding influence in the automotive landscape, which is a good thing.
Corporate culture has continually shown us that business is unlikely to ever follow the rules on its own accord, just look at what’s happening with the banks. A regulator, cop on the beat, whatever you want to call it is necessary.
The ACCC is now filling the role it was intended to fill meaning a new metaphor will need to be used, it’s now a toothy tiger indeed.