Ford CEO acknowledges miscues; customers to receive free upgrade on flash drive early next year
DETROIT--Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally vows that revised versions of the Sync and MyFord Touch infotainment systems will be simpler and more reliable and says more improvements are coming.
He also says Ford has tightened its quality-control process for developing those systems' software. That appears aimed at avoiding the glitches that have dogged the new technologies and hurt Ford's standings in quality and reliability studies.
Told of anecdotal tales of shoppers who want to buy a Ford but won't if they have to take MyFord Touch, Mulally replied, "I think that when they see the new upgraded versions of it, they might change their mind."
Early next year, Ford will send owners of vehicles with MyFord Touch or MyLincoln Touch a flash drive that they can use to install an upgrade without going to a dealership.
In a wide-ranging interview with Automotive News, Mulally also said:
-- He sees "continuing expansion" for the U.S. economy through the rest of this year and next. He declined to predict auto sales, "until we get through the fourth quarter."
Europe, on the other hand, has "a lot of uncertainty" in its outlook, Mulally said. He predicted "zero to slightly improving" economic growth there next year, with results "very mixed among the countries."
-- The recently signed UAW contract will make Ford "fully competitive" with transplant factories over the four-year term of the contract, "because the gap will just continue to close."
--"We are now continuing to invest" in U.S. factories and jobs, he said. "This has reversed many years of getting smaller and smaller."
But he disagreed with recent comments by Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne that the UAW contract's two-tier wage structure is not viable over the long run.
In defense of the two-tier wages, Mulally said: "I think the agreement that we have with the UAW and the employees has enabled us to be competitive, and I think it's good."
Mulally praised Sync, MyFord Touch, and MyLincoln Touch and said that Ford won't slow its plans to install the systems in its vehicles.
The company plans to make the systems standard on future Lincolns, and to include them on 80 percent of the Ford-brand lineup by 2014, in some cases as standard equipment.
"We haven't changed anything about our strategy on introducing it," Mulally said.
A driver can use Sync and MyFord Touch to operate the audio, temperature, and other controls and place cell phone calls by means of either an 8-inch touch screen in the center console or voice commands.
Mulally strongly defended the systems, saying they enhance safety by keeping drivers' "hands on the wheel and eyes on the road." He said many consumers are fans of the systems.
For consumers, those technologies are "a reason to buy," Mulally said. "With 50 percent of the people, it's part of the decision to purchase a car. Seventy percent of the people that use Sync and MyFord recommend it to their friends."
But Mulally conceded that Ford "got feedback early" from consumers "very clearly that in some areas maybe it was a little too sophisticated with maybe a little too many options."
"We have most of the issues identified, we have fixes in place and we've already started" installing those fixes, he said, adding that more improvements will follow.
He compared Ford's response to that feedback to the ways consumer-technology companies improve electronic goods.
"Are there things that we learned from that? Absolutely. That's what a technology company has got to be really good at, too," he said; it needs to introduce the technology, "but also stay real close to customers and continually improve it."
The negative feedback has gone beyond individual consumers complaining to dealers.
In January, Consumer Reports magazine said it won't recommend the 2011 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossovers because of low test scores--mainly the result of MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch technology.
The magazine called the technology "a complicated distraction while driving." It said "first-time users might find it impossible to comprehend. The system did not always perform as promised."
In a J.D. Power and Associates survey released in June that tracks problems reported during the first 90 days of ownership, the Ford brand fared worse than the industry average for the first time since the 2006 model year.
Power said the main problems were MyFord Touch and fuel-saving six-speed automatic transmissions that seem to hesitate in an unfamiliar way when drivers shift gears or accelerate.
(Source: Automotive News)