Ford to Offer Software Patch to Fix Malfunctioning Touch-Screens

Ford Motor Co., which has plunged in quality rankings this year, plans to provide a software patch to more than 300,000 vehicle owners next year to fix malfunctioning dashboard touch-screen controls.

Early next year, Ford will send owners of the Ford Explorer, Edge, Focus and Lincoln MKX a UBS flash drive loaded with new software aimed at fixing problems with MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch audio, phone, climate and navigation systems, the company said today in a statement. Ford said the patch will prevent system failures and make functions easier to use.

Consumer complaints about the touch-screens was a leading reason Ford fell to 20th from 10th last month in annual reliability rankings from Consumer Reports magazine. The technology also was blamed by J.D. Power & Associates for Ford falling to 23rd from fifth in its 2011 new-car quality survey. Ford Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally made quality a pillar of his turnaround plan for the second-largest U.S. automaker.

“If consumers are complaining about it, obviously, we don’t have the level of intuitiveness and the ease of use that we want,” Graydon Reitz, director of Ford’s global electronics and electrical-systems engineers, said Nov. 2 in an embargoed briefing in Dearborn, Michigan. “That’s really what we’ve addressed with this performance upgrade. It’s simpler, it’s more intuitive, it’s faster.”

Consumers will be able to install the software themselves, which takes about 45 minutes, or they can take it to a dealer for assistance, Reitz said. He declined to say how much Ford is spending on the repair program.

Avoiding Reboots

The software upgrade attempts to prevent system crashes, Reitz said. Dubbed the “blue screen of death” by some consumers, drivers have to turn off and restart their car and wait for the system to reboot.

“That’s what we call a stability issue,” Reitz said. “One of the key elements of our performance upgrade is tackling the stability issues head-on and making it stable and solid so we don’t get into reboots and resets.”

Ford also is restoring traditional volume and tuning knobs for the radio and on-off switches for seat warmers in redesigned versions of the Escape sport-utility vehicle, Flex wagon and Taurus sedan coming next year, Reitz said. Those controls have been embedded in the touch screens.

“One of the feedbacks we got from Consumer Reports is that consumers expect to do volume and tune with a rotary knob,” Reitz said. “So if you look at the introduction of our vehicles, you’ll see more of a hybrid with touch screen and key rotary knobs.”

Second Look

Consumer Reports will re-evaluate MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch once it receives the upgrade, said David Champion, auto-test chief for the Yonkers, New York-based magazine used by many car-shoppers.

“Anything they can do to improve this system and decrease driver distraction will make the roads safer,” Champion said in a Nov. 2 interview. “It’s a really complicated system to do stuff that used to be intuitive.”

The automaker said it conducted four consumer clinics over the past year that showed the system is an important reason consumers buy Ford and Lincoln models. Dearborn-based Ford said its touch-screen system accounted for four of the top seven reasons consumers purchase its Edge SUV.

Consumer Reports received many complaints about MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch in its survey of 1.3 million vehicle owners, Champion said. That was the main reason for the decline in reliability of the Lincoln MKX, Ford Edge and Explorer.

‘Fairly Complicated’

“Even if they upgrade the software to make it more responsive, it’s still going to be fairly complicated,” Champion said. “The best way to fix it is to scrap it and start over again.”

Ford redesigned more than 1,000 screens on the system, to make buttons and graphics larger and more responsive, Reitz said.

“Every single function on there is at least twice as fast and there are some five times as fast,” Reitz said.

The improved software should “significantly” reduce distraction and lead to a quantum leap in quality studies, Reitz said.

“We expect a step-change improvement in our quality results,” Reitz said.

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