We can learn a lot about how to do right from other people’s mistakes.

Ford Australia’s unconscionable conduct has finally caught up with the company and its decision makers. The $10m penalty is for deliberately blaming customers for a company fault.

It’s not hard to be honest. Ford Australia chose the alternative.

Wilkinson Butler’s relationship with Ford Australia customers started with a complaint about one of these small cars, which led to a class action on behalf of thousands of owners. Our role has been to support the legal firm, Bannister Law with class action PR, in its fight to get justice for numerous Australians who cannot, solo, afford to take on the company.

 

Class actions are open to abuse but they are terrific for enabling justice for otherwise helpless individuals against large companies.

In short, Ford’s people were telling car owners, mainly women it appears, who complained about shuddering and jerking when accelerating, there was no problem. In many cases Ford folks claimed the issue was actually the women’s “driving style” — even though, according to the ACCC, Ford was aware of the transmission problems in some Fiesta, Focus and EcoSport models.

The ACCC announced the Federal Court imposed the fine yesterday.

It seemed inevitable to us, from the beginning, that Ford would come unstuck with the deception. There were too many similar stories from too many people who had never met each other.

It’s a disturbing commentary on group-think that so many people in Ford must have wondered about the implausibility of the ‘company message’ and remained silent. But what starts as a tiny excuse can grow to become a big fat corporate lie. A quality company like Ford had its reputation needlessly trashed.

A few years ago, Ford’s dishonesty would have been major news, but now that story is competing for media space against the even more monstrous consumer deceptions being exposed at the banking royal commission. And the Ford deception follows the revelations about the Volkswagen emission scandal (another class action in which we are supporting the legal firm fighting on behalf of customers).

It makes it so much harder for the honest companies, with good people working every day to do the right thing. In those companies, values and behaviours to do with integrity and quality are part of an everyday conversation.

Such is the growing distrust of companies, that the challenge now for good companies, and their executives, is not only to do the right thing, but be seen to be doing it. This is getting harder and harder in this increasingly challenging communications era. It involves truth-in-marketing, and consistent, constant, and accurate PR.

Peter Wilkinson

Author Peter Wilkinson

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