J.D. Power and Associates' annual Initial Quality Study is one of the car industry's most widely-awaited polls. And this year, one Detroit automaker is taking it on the chin.
Ford's Blue Oval was tarnished a bit by the survey, with the brand plunging from fifth place last year, to a mediocre 23rd for 2011. The survey looks at problems during the first 90 days of new car ownership. But for Ford, and other makes, it wasn't mechanical problems that consumers complained about as much as operational issues with new technology.
One such example is MyFord Touch, a hands-free system the brand launched four years ago. It allows the driver to control phone calls and the radio by voice commands. MyFord Touch goes one step further by controlling almost every feature of the vehicle with voice, a smart phone-like touch screen, and multi-function steering wheel controls. MyFord Touch replaces most conventional buttons and knobs. Many complaints involve the system locking up, freezing, or simply being unresponsive to voice commands.
This is not the first time Ford has faced criticism for the MyFord Touch. We even had serious misgivings about MyFord Touch in our road test of the redesigned Explorer. And earlier this year, Consumer Reports withheld a recommendation to the Ford Edge due to problems with the MyFord Touch system. Ford responded by offering a course to dealerships for buyers.
The survey's results are alarming as hands-free communication has become a major feature for new vehicles due to numerous state laws banning the use of hand held devices while driving. While overall new car quality is still improving, the number of problems with hands free systems has jumped 240 percent in just five years. Such problems were not even listed before 2006.
But Ford won't slam on the brakes of the MyFord Touch. Instead, they're working on an upgrade to address consumer complaints that will likely be phased in over the next year.