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

Aug. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Ford Motor Co., after two years of consumer complaints about its touch-screen dashboard controls, faces a big test with its remodeled Fusion midsize sedan, Consumer Reports magazine’s auto-test chief said.

Technology glitches have lowered Ford’s quality scores. The automaker’s namesake brand fell to 27th in Westlake Village, California-based J.D. Power & Associates’ new-car quality survey in June from fifth two years ago. The company’s Lincoln luxury brand remained below average, ranking 18th.

Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally has made technology a key part of his turnaround plan at Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford. Fuel-efficient, turbocharged engines and features such as voice-activated phones have attracted younger customers and pushed up prices.

“Ford was going absolutely gangbusters. They had the most reliable family sedan, bar none,” said David Champion, who runs Consumer Reports auto testing. Complaints about the MyFord Touch screen and small-car transmissions have continued to hurt its reputation. “Word of mouth is still really important in the marketplace,” he said.

The 2013 Fusion looks “fabulous” and “is fun to drive,” Champion said, based on his spin in a pre-production version of the car.

Ford in March sent a software upgrade to 377,000 customers with the MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch dashboard controls. While the upgrade included faster touch responses, simpler graphics, enhanced voice recognition and improved phone controls, it didn’t arrive in time to improve this year’s scores in the J.D. Power & Associates new-car survey.

“Yes, they’ve done some upgrades to it,” Champion said. “But it is still a pain in the neck even when it’s supposed to be working properly. It’s still slow. It’s still difficult to use.”

Dodge Dart

Chrysler Group LLC, the automaker majority-owned by Fiat SpA, has introduced strong new models, including its Grand Cherokee sport-utility vehicle, Dodge Durango pickup and Chrysler 300 sedan, Champion said. While the new Dart compact car is also impressive, he said, it competes in a crowded segment against the likes of the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Ford Focus.

“It’s going to be tough in that marketplace,” he said. “The car is good and it’s fun to dive. I think it should do really well. The ride, the handling, the steering -- all work really well. The interior still has some issues of cheapness to it.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Clothier in Acme, Michigan, at mclotiher@bloomberg.net

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

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