August 16, 2022

Ford’s High-Tech Control System Hurts Ranking for Quality

The Ford brand fell to 23rd place in the 2011 initial quality study released Thursday by J.D. Power and Associates, an influential survey of buyers that ranked Ford fifth a year ago. The ratio of problems reported per 100 Ford vehicles increased to 116 — worse than the industry average of 107 and all but nine other brands — from 93 in 2010, when it was the top-performing mass-market brand.

Ford’s premium line, Lincoln, slid from eighth place to 17th.

The survey is based on feedback from nearly 74,000 people who bought a new vehicle from November through February. Most of the decline at Ford is related to the introduction of a system called MyFord Touch, which replaces many of the traditional knobs and buttons in a vehicle with touch screens, steering wheel-mounted controls and spoken commands.

Ford said the technology has proved popular, with 92 percent of people buying a Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle electing to include it. But some survey respondents found the system to be “too complicated” and reported their difficulties as problems with the vehicles, said David Sargent, J.D. Power’s vice president for global vehicle research.

“Ford made the decision to be the leader in this area, so they’re also in a more vulnerable position,” Mr. Sargent told reporters after speaking to the Automotive Press Association. “Anything that the industry is discovering about this technology, they’re going to discover on Ford vehicles.”

The poor ranking is a rare blemish for Ford, whose sales and profits have been surging amid a product renaissance that has greatly improved its reputation.

Ford officials said they were not surprised by the results, having warned analysts this year that the company was addressing some quality issues with some new models, and insisted that much of what dragged down its rating had already been addressed.

Some of the issues with MyFord Touch were actual defects, such as occasions when the system would reboot itself, that have been addressed through software upgrades. To help drivers understand the system better, Ford has allocated money to dealers so that they can have employees spend more time explaining it to buyers. The company said this week that it would make lettering on screens larger and bolder so it would be more legible while driving.

Ford also said it had received some negative feedback from customers because some of its new engine-and-transmission combinations aimed at increasing fuel economy can feel different from what drivers are used to in a vehicle.

“We expected mixed quality results this year, after closely listening to our customers,” Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas, said in a statement. “This same feedback now shows that we are largely back on track after addressing near-term quality issues with MyFord Touch and a few of our power trains.”

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