Ford’s Fields Says Automaker Is ‘Back on Track’ on Quality

By Keith Naughton and Joshua Armstrong

Ford Motor Co. (F), the second-largest U.S. automaker, said it’s “back on track” in improving the quality of its vehicles and that performance in North America will be mixed for the year.

The automaker is fixing defects in its MyFordTouch and Sync technology and improving the software, Mark Fields, president of the Americas, told reporters today in Dearborn, Michigan, where Ford is based. The company said while reporting first-quarter results in April that quality performance for the year would be “mixed” after falling short of a goal to improve in the period.

Ford’s Explorer sport-utility vehicle this month was ranked 17th out of 19 models in its class reviewed by Consumer Reports, which called the touch-screen controls “complicated and distracting.” J.D. Power & Associates said it had received reports of the screens blanking out.

“We’re largely back on track on some of these early issues,” Fields said.

Ford has reworked software on MyFordTouch to prevent random rebooting that had afflicted the system, said Sue Cischke, vice president of environmental and safety engineering. The touch controls also have been recalibrated to respond more quickly to a driver’s touch, she said.

Training Drivers

Ford is encouraging dealers to spend as much as 40 minutes training drivers to use the system.

“If you’re trying to figure it out as you’re driving, obviously that’s not a good thing to do,” Cischke said.

Ford disables some MyFordTouch functions, such as navigation entry and accessing sports scores, when the car is moving, said Wes Sherwood, a spokesman.

Cischke did not directly respond to the question of whether Ford would consider locking out the touch-screen entirely while the vehicle is in motion.

“What we allow when you’re driving is very limited interaction,” she said. “What we’re encouraging people to do is use the voice interaction.”

Communication may hinder Ford’s quality ratings as much as its products because consumers may find MyFordTouch to be more complicated than they expected, said Jim Hall, an analyst at 2953 Analytics Inc. in Birmingham, Michigan.

‘Problem Already’

“If you have to train customers to use your product, you have a problem already from a customer-perception standpoint,” he said.

Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally has worked to improve the automaker’s quality, and J.D. Power ranked Ford the mainstream brand with the fewest defects last year. The gains helped Ford report $9.28 billion in profit the past two years after $30.1 billion in losses from 2006 to 2008.

“If you go back five years, their quality ratings were extremely poor,” said Dennis Virag, president of The Automotive Consulting Group Inc. “Under Mulally, he’s done a terrific job of turning the company around.”


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