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Consumers win after ACCC action against FCA

Customer first: FCA Australia is being investigated by the ACCC over customer complaints regarding vehicle faults from a two-year period 2013 to 2014.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia investigated by ACCC over customer complaints

11 Sep 2015

THE Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has sounded a warning to the wider automotive industry as part of an investigation into customer complaints to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Australia.

The ACCC investigation is looking into between 800 and 1000 consumer complaints concerning vehicle faults, and the manner in which FCA Australia handled those complaints.

“The consumer guarantees mandate that vehicles will be fit for purpose, free from defects and as durable as a reasonable consumer would expect,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said.

“Where the guarantee is not complied with, a consumer will have rights against the supplier and in some cases the manufacturer, who will have to provide a remedy.

“This means that all car manufacturers and suppliers, including dealers, need to think beyond the initial sale and invest in their aftersales care.”

The Italian-American automotive giant's Australian arm said it has co-operated fully with the commission's investigations – in the process avoiding seven-figure fines – into its treatment of customer complaints under its previous management, covering a two-year period between the start of 2013 and the end of 2014.

“The ACCC is considering concerns about the motor vehicle industry more generally, with a particular focus on ensuring compliance with the consumer guarantee provisions of the consumer law,” Mr Sims said.

FCA Australia said many of the changes to the company's processes and staffing were already underway or in place prior to the ACCC investigation.

The company’s president and CEO Pat Dougherty “acknowledged its shortcomings in handling customer enquiries and complaints under previous management”.

Former FCA Australia CEOs Clyde Campbell and Veronica Johns were at the helm of the company during the period of investigation. FCA Australia has brought a civil lawsuit against Mr Campbell, claiming that he misused up to $30 million worth of company funds.

“We have implemented extensive changes across the business to improve the customer experience holistically, including the complaints resolution process,” Mr Dougherty said.

The company also said it had doubled the number of dealer support staff with the aim of improving response times to technical and customer service issues, created a dedicated Resolutions Team for resolving complex customer issues as well as internal customer service scoring systems.

It has also doubled the size of its parts warehouse – as well as making it a 24-hour weekday operation – and its parts inventory.

“The ACCC’s involvement has provided additional impetus and introduced greater urgency to our own efforts, and will lead to FCA Australia providing a far higher level of service to both its existing and future customers.

“In conjunction with the ACCC’s findings, FCA recognises even greater opportunities for improvements across the business and remains focused on strengthening our processes, distribution, training and communication with our dealers,” Mr Dougherty said.

Under an agreement with the ACCC, FCA Australia will conduct an independent review to be completed by a senior legal professional with automotive industry experience, who will investigate specific customer complaints.

FCA Australia has engaged the services of Peter George, a partner at law firm CIE Legal in Melbourne, who also has experience as the in-house legal counsel with Ford Australia.

As part of the review, FCA Australia said it will identify and contact customers who made a complaint to the company about vehicle issues in the nominated two-year period who were “refused a particular remedy by Chrysler (other than those customers whose complaints were resolved to their satisfaction or were resolved in a Court or Tribunal).”

Affected customers who are not contacted by Chrysler within 60 days should contact FCA Australia’s Customer Care Assistance Centre on 1300 133 079.

The company distributes the Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Jeep, Chrysler and Dodge brands in Australia.

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