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Ford Says Software Fixes Too Late to Help J.D. Power Rank

Ford CEO Alan Mulally
Ford Motor Co. President and Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally. Photographer: Bradley C. Bower/Bloomberg

Ford Motor Co., working to fix faulty dashboard touch screens, said the software upgrades offered to customers came too late to improve quality scores in J.D. Power & Associates’s new-car survey.

Ford was one of only five brands in the quality study to decline, according to survey results distributed today at a meeting of the Automotive Press Association in Detroit.

“We’ll be about the same or slightly better,” Bennie Fowler, Ford’s group vice president of global quality, told reporters in Dearborn, Michigan, yesterday. “The dramatic improvement we’re expecting will come in the third quarter and, hopefully, we’ll see that in” next year’s survey.

Touch screens have lowered Ford’s quality scores. The automaker’s namesake brand slid to 27th from 23rd a year ago and fifth in 2010 in Westlake Village, California-based J.D. Power’s new-car quality survey. The company’s Lincoln luxury brand was 18th, its second-consecutive ranking below the industry average.

Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally has made technology a pillar of his turnaround plan. Fuel-efficient, turbocharged engines and features such as voice-activated phones have attracted younger customers and pushed up prices. U.S. buyers paid an average of $31,995 for Ford’s models in the first quarter, up 26 percent from 2002, according to

Ford in March sent a software upgrade to 377,000 customers with the MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch dashboard controls. J.D. Power measures quality on new cars from November to February, Fowler said.

‘Upgradeable Car’

The upgrade included faster touch responses, simpler graphics, enhanced voice recognition and improved phone controls, said Jim Farley, Ford’s global marketing chief. Ford plans a further enhancement with the next upgrade so that outside temperature is displayed on the home screen, he said.

“The idea of an upgradeable car is right here, right now,” Farley said yesterday at a press conference. “We have a lot more to do as an industry and as Ford, but we’re headed in the right direction.”

Ford has said its quality performance this year will be “mixed” and fall short of its goal to improve on last year. The company has said it’s receiving complaints about a fuel-saving new transmission used in its Focus and Fiesta small cars.

The automaker’s touch-screen dashboard controls still receive poor marks from owners, even after improving the software, said David Champion, auto-test chief with Consumer Reports magazine.

“They need to get these innovations right or just dump ’em,” Champion said in a June 12 interview. “They’ve improved them slightly, but they’re still not right.”

Basic Quality

The software fixes Ford made after J.D. Power completed its survey should help the automaker next year, David Sargent, J.D. Power vice president for global vehicle research, said today in a speech.

“The new system is a whole lot better than the previous system,” he said. “So we expect Ford to rebound.”

Other than the high-tech features, Ford’s basic quality remains good, Champion said. The automaker is seeing a reduction in the “basic things that break,” Fowler said.

“We’ve seen about a 40 percent improvement in our repair rate from this time last year,” Fowler said. “So we’re back on track in that regard.”

Warranty claims on MyFord Touch also have declined as Ford offered the software upgrades, Fowler said. Some of the problems have been caused by Ford customers not understanding the technology, he said.

“We’re working on continuing to explain to our customers how to use the technologies,” Fowler said. “We’re also going to continue to refine all of our software to better listen to what the customer is saying.”

Ford has provided upgrades for the new transmissions, Said Deep, a company spokesman, said in a statement today.

Ford gained 0.9 percent to $10.65 at the close in New York.

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