Two weeks ago, we wrote about hundreds of 2011 Ford Mustang owners reporting problems with the six-speed manual transmissions in their vehicles. We're now hearing more complaints — almost daily — but we have yet to hear from Ford. Color us puzzled. UPDATE: Silence broken.
Scores of owners say they have problems ranging from hard shifts to outright failures in the MT82 transmissions built in China by a Ford-Getrag joint venture. Ford has issued one technical service bulletin to dealers telling them to swap transmission fluid, and suggested a problem with bolts in the clutch plate as another possible solution. Yet the complaints keep coming, and whatever it's told dealers, Ford has said nothing to customers or to Jalopnik. Here's our best guesses as to why:
Ford doesn't want to talk to us
Automakers get mad at reporters. One might think giant corporations would have thicker skins, but the reverse is true; they employ many high-energy people who fuss over every perceived slight and occasionally decide someone is "dead to us."
But that doesn't make much sense. We've had no bad interactions with Ford on this story, and no one from there has extended an invitation to the woodshed in recent weeks. Even if we were on the naughty list, there's typically no better way to guarantee a call back from an automaker's PR department than to inquire about a quality issue.
Ford wants to downplay the problem
The "stop scratching it" school of professional damage control has been discredited for several years, although a few companies still rely on it. It doesn't seem to be the case here, especially since one of Ford's own Internet customer service advisors has been active on Mustang message boards trying to address complaints, and has received some criticism for lack of progress:
I was not assigned this thread or this forum to sugarcoat this specific issue...I know that I don't have as much info to share as you'd like, or the solution to your issues as quickly as you'd like, but the right people at Ford are aware and have read this thread.
Ford's push into social media as a way to sell more cars cuts both ways; you can't friend your customers on Facebook or follow their Twitter feeds, and then pretend not to hear their complaints.
Ford doesn't have an answer yet
Last week, one 2011 Mustang owner stopped by the dealership while they had his MT82 transmission cracked open, and took a picture of second gear. Bits of the gear had shorn off and were collected with a magnet from the fluid pan. The owner said the car had never received rough treatment:
The synchronizers themselves show some wear but are not really that badly torn up. The blocker rings (you can see one in the picture (the brass part)) are in relatively good condition so the gears and synchro's should be speed matching fine. This leads me to believe that the problem is a combination strong Synchro's and soft metal on the gears. So in other words, I think they are breaking from torque loads that soft metal in the gears can't handle...
Other shade-tree diagnosis has suggested the linkages were misaligned, but there's really not much even an owner with an engineering degree could do to fix the problem on their own. Ford itself may be stumped for an answer — one downside of relying on a global supply chain where engineering, manufacturing and final assembly happen on different continents.
Tucked into Ford's earnings report Monday of $2.6 billion for the first quarter of 2011 was a downgrade of its quality targets for the year from "improved" to "mixed," saying "the company is addressing some near-term issues." It didn't specify what those were, but recent problems include the recall of 1.2 million trucks for air bag issues, issues with Ford Fiesta automatic gearboxes, complaints about MyFord Touch and Ford Focii sitting in lots outside the Michigan assembly plant.
Add to that replacing several thousand broken transmissions and it would cost Ford not just money but reputation. For a company that's profited so much from high quality, it's a tough shift.
UPDATE:Ford has given us the following statement. When we hear more, we'll pass it along:
"We remain absolutely committed to the highest quality in all of our vehicles and are looking into this matter. We remain committed to continuous improvement."