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ACCC boss Rocket Rod Sims has zoomed back as the champion of the 1.5 million Australians who buy a new car every year.

On Thursday he announced that the competition regulator had begun a case in the Federal Court against Mazda Australia, alleging it engaged in unconscionable conduct and made false or misleading representations in its dealings with consumers who bought one of seven new Mazda vehicles between 2013 and 2017. The models include Mazda 2, Mazda 6, Mazda CX-5, Mazda CX-5B, Mazda CX-3 and Mazda BT-50.

The maximum penalties for each breach of the Australian Consumer Law including unconscionable conduct and making false or misleading representations is the greater of $10m (the price of a 1932 Bugatti Type 55, a Duesenberg Model J Long-Wheelbase Coupe or a Ferrari 275 GTB/4 by Scaglietti) or three times the value of the benefit received or 10 per cent of annual turnover in the preceding 12 months. 

Now you can’t say you weren’t warned. We’ve been writing about these Mazda (and Honda) issues for years.

The ACCC action follows the Japanese company recalling 35,476 Mazda 3s, Mazda 6s and CX-5s in Australia which Mazda says “may accumulate carbon deposits in the intake shutter valve, in addition to premature wear of certain engine components”.

Well that’s funny because in the US, Mazda is recalling more than 262,000 of the same CX-5s and cars to fix a software problem that could cause the engines to stall unexpectedly without warning. And that’s one of the major problems readers have had with their Mazda 3, 6 and CX-5s.

But of course, like Honda and others, the Mazda corporate strategy is to deny. The service people at Mazda dealerships, probably on instructions from head office, have told owners that “we have never seen this problem before”. Mazda global boss Akira Marumoto and local boss Vinesh Bhindi didn’t answer questions on the issues and Mazda PR operative Sonia Singh told us: “Mazda does not comment publicly on matters relating to its customers.”

Of course, this would be normal big overseas car manufacturer behaviour that we all expect now, except it is a very serious safety issue.

Mike Dare’s daughter has a three-year-old Mazda CX-5 and two young kids. Mike told my colleague, Paul Gover, that the kids, the Mazda and the mother were driving along one of Melbourne’s always busy freeways when the warning lights started flashing, warning sounds started sounding and the drive system disengaged. Drive system disengaged is a nice way of saying the engine is in neutral and the car is rolling along by itself, no doubt with a big B-double truck racing up behind.

Of course, it goes without saying that young mothers of young children aren’t all that pleased about their cars rolling along car and truck-infested freeways.

Brisbane’s Peter Davis bought his Mazda 6 diesel touring wagon in September 2013 from Eagers Mazda in Brisbane. “In June 2015, I experienced complete loss of power, although the engine did not cut out. The servicing Mazda dealer (Ipswich Mazda) “fixed” the problem under warranty. The problem re-appeared in June this year, but the same dealer now says it is Peter’s fault and cannot fix the problem. “This is a serious safety problem that needs to be resolved before someone is killed,” Peter says. “While to date the power loss has occurred only at urban speeds (under 80 km/h), if it were to occur while driving in the right lane of a freeway, the outcome could be fatal.”

Ian McPherson’s new CX-5 was suffering from loss of power, particularly on hills. “Mazda told us to have the car towed in, which was impossible — we were out and about with three kids in tow!”

After a day of “testing” the service manager called to say that the issue was serious, and that there was a “known design flaw” in the Skyactiv diesel engines that caused them to overheat. He also mentioned, and I quote: “I have three other CX-5s in my workshop right now with the same problem …

“Mazda have fought us all the way on this.”

Ian has ended up in a NCAT hearing. “We provided our evidence documents to Mazda more than six weeks prior to the hearing; we received Mazda’s in our letter box two hours before, on the day of the hearing. I had to read the documents in the car on the way to the hearing.” Well played Mazda, well played.

“You’ll note that the description of the problem in this recall is exactly as I had described the problem to you that we experienced with our CX-5 almost a year ago.

“What is slightly disappointing is the NRMA quote on the issue: NRMA spokesman Peter Khoury said he was ‘alarmed’ as he had not heard of a case relating to a Mazda model. Disappointing because at the same time I had begun corresponding with you about this issue, I had also been corresponding directly with Peter Khoury by email,” Ian says.

The ACCC alleges that these consumers began experiencing faults with their vehicles within a year or two of purchase.

The faults affected the ability of the consumers to use their vehicles, and in some cases included the vehicles unexpectedly losing power and decelerating while they were being driven. The vehicles were taken to Mazda dealers for repeated repairs, including multiple engine replacements. One vehicle was off the road for four months within a six-month period.

“We allege that Mazda repeatedly refused to provide a refund or a replacement at no cost to the consumers and pressured them to accept lesser offers which were made by Mazda only after multiple failures of the vehicles and repeated attempted repairs,” Rod says.

“In short, our case is that Mazda gave these consumers the ‘run around’ while denying their consumer guarantee rights.”

The ACCC alleges that after repeated attempted repairs, Mazda pressured the consumers to accept offers that were less than what they were entitled to. Mazda offered to refund only a portion of the car’s purchase price or offered to provide a replacement car if the consumer made a significant payment. In one case, Mazda’s offer was limited to an extended warranty and free service of the vehicle.

Over the last four years Mazda have recalled more than four million vehicles for issues like the possibility the wheels might fall off the 2019 Mazda 3 “under continuous normal driving conditions”. These were in addition to the recalls many manufacturers including Mazda had for faulty airbags.

We asked Mark Flintoft, the senior manager PR and corporate communications at Mazda, a series of questions about the recall, including why there was no reference to it on the Mazda website except a page that provides no information. we haven’t had a reply yet.

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