Ford Says ‘Connected Car’ Success Rides on Tech Firm Efforts

Ford Motor Co. (F), trying to satisfy customer demands for more in-car gadgets, said technology companies must work in more open and flexible ways for Internet “connected-car” features to be as seamless as smartphone apps.

Ford’s push to offer voice-activated commands, navigation software and entertainment features ahead of competitors has had mixed results. While the carmaker is improving its in-car technology, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), Google Inc. (GOOG) and other software firms will ultimately determine how well web-connected features work, said Ford Executive Vice President Jim Farley.

“It’s important for us to acknowledge that the real value for customers with the connected car is outside of our auto industry,” Farley said today in a speech at the Los Angeles Auto Show. “For the car companies, it’s pretty clear the mobile digital economy is not in our hands.”

Efforts by Ford, the second-biggest U.S. automaker, to be a leader in in-car technology haven’t worked out as well as hoped, with some vehicles plagued by nagging electronics malfunctions that have hurt its performance in assessments by Consumer Reports. The Ford and Lincoln lines ranked 26 and 27 last month out of 28 brands in the magazine’s annual reliability survey.

Ford’s rankings suffered because of defects with its MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch audio, entertainment and navigation systems as well as defects with transmissions on vehicles such as the Focus and Fiesta small cars, according to the magazine.

Experience Gap

“We recognize the very large gap between customers’ experience on their phone, and how great that functions, and in-car traditional navigation experience,” Farley said. “We are absolutely committed and leading in this space.”

Improvements on the part of Ford and other automakers include developing more “open architecture” for apps and smartphone integration. Tech companies have to change their approach as well, particularly by being more flexible in the interface they use, he said.

“They impose their interfaces on the car user,” said Farley, who is head of marketing for Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford as well as its Lincoln brand. “And because it’s not compatible, it’s really not safe.”

The need for closer cooperation on all sides is at a “tipping point,” he said.

Ford slid 0.6 percent to $16.87 today in New York. The shares have risen 30 percent this year, compared with a 25 percent gain for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Ohnsman in Los Angeles at aohnsman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net

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