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Graeme Whickman

FORD Australia’s $10 million fine levied today by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) – one of the biggest in Australian consumer law (ACL) history – may be the tip of the iceberg as class actions continue by law firms including Bannister Law.

Bannister Law founder and principal Charles Bannister said the news that Ford had received a fine was “welcome” and could lead to potential refunds for the owners of about 70,000 Ford cars in the class action.

Bannister Law is acting for about 4000 clients on the Ford case, Mr Bannister told GoAutoNews Premium. The hearing for the class action case is set for December this year.

Ford Australia and the ACCC today announced they had agreed on a penalty and settlement of the ACCC action that started in the Federal Court in July 2017.

The ACCC said that some customer requests for refunds or replacement vehicles were not appropriately handled by Ford when issues with the dual-clutch PowerShift transmission – fitted to Ford models including the Fiesta, Focus and EcoSport – became public in 2015.

Mr Bannister said: “Our class action seeks compensation for the 70,000 current owners and those that have suffered loss and already sold the vehicle.

Focus

“We note that there is an agreement to establish an independent complaints review program to review consumers’ requests for refunds or replacement vehicles made to Ford between May 1, 2015 and November 1, 2016. This will operate for 12 months from the date of commencement of the undertaking.

“We are considering how this may affect group members within the class action and if group members that fall within the period can claim additional losses.

“But we do not believe the undertakings affect the entire group in the class action for which we seek compensation.”

Ford had been working with independent arbitrator Ashton Wood who introduced complantants from his Facebook site. He told GoAutoNews Premium that 393 aggrieved customers had received a “positive outcome” through his introduction of them to Ford management.

Ecosport

Today’s announcement was the culmination of ACCC action against Ford as part of its two-year investigation into the automotive industry under its comprehensive car retailing industry market study, and direct investigation into complaints by Ford customers dating back to May 2015.

In announcing the fine today, ACCC chairman Rod Sims said Ford knew of the vehicle problems yet failed to correctly deal with the problem.

“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,” he said in a statement.

“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.”

Fiesta

The Ford fine was one of the outcomes of the ACCC’s initial car retailing study draft that was released in August. The release coincided with the ACCC receiving an undertaking by Holden – then under investigation by the ACCC – to comply with the Australian Consumer Law regulations.

The car retailing study also triggered investigations into Ford and Volkswagen. Independently, in February this year Hyundai made a statement with the ACCC concerning the way it had undertaken to meet its ACL obligations.

Hyundai now has one of the most comprehensive ACL agreements of any OEM – a now well-publicised position that aims to enforce customer satisfaction.

By Neil Dowling

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