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Ford Reliability: Is Quality Still ‘Job 1?’

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Ford Reliability: Is Quality Still ‘Job 1?’

Six of the Top 10 Least Reliable Cars and Trucks on the road are Ford products. At least, that’s according to data provided by Consumer Reports, a non-profit organization that tests everything from toasters to homeowner’s insurance. This lopsided result has raised a lot of questions, like: Are Blue-Oval vehicles really that troublesome or is Consumer Reports’ survey methodology flawed?

As many AutoGuide readers commented on our Top 10 Unreliable Cars and Trucks post, the company’s MyFord Touch infotainment system was a major reason for their poor performance. “The reliability problems are overwhelming,” said Jake Fisher, Director of Auto Testing at Consumer Reports.

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To be clear this has nothing to do with how easy or hard the system is to use. “We’re not talking about difficult to operate” Fisher said, adding, “We’re talking about failures,” outright problems that require a customer to go back to the dealer. MyFord Touch has had, “a serious impact [on] brand reliability.”

Fisher said “I think they were trying to be out front [with MyFord Touch].” He noted that Japanese automakers tend to be conservative when it comes to new features. Toyota for instance is rarely in a leadership position when it comes to technology because, “That’s the higher risk,” Fisher said.

Another issue that took wind right out of the Blue Oval’s reliability sails is their PowerShift dual-clutch automatic transmission; it’s offered on the Focus and Fiesta small cars. Fisher said customers weren’t just complaining about shift-quality issues, gearboxes have actually been failing. This has resulted in a “high problem rate,” he said.

PowerShift

According to Fisher, MyFord Touch and PowerShift are the “Two issues you can really pinpoint” for the company’s quality troubles. But there could be another reason as well.

Ford-Quality-is-Job-1Over the last couple years Ford has introduced a dizzying number of redesigned vehicles, new engines and other cutting-edge features. “I really think that’s what’s behind these reliability missteps,” Fisher said, “It’s very difficult for any manufacturer to maintain reliability when you change everything.”

For a little perspective the company launched 25 new vehicles and 31 different powertrains in 2012. That’s a monumental push for an automaker but, “We plan to keep this aggressive product cadence up,” said Wes Sherwood, quality communications manager at Ford. He also mentioned that going forward they’re going to, “double down on quality.”

And their efforts are already paying off. According to Sherwood, Ford has, “Significantly reduced issues with the new systems,” a change that has not been reflected in Consumer Reports findings at this time.

MyFord-Touch-interfaceComing to the company’s defense Fisher said, “It’s not like Ford has had a history of bad quality,” in recent years they’ve distanced themselves from their domestic competition. The previous generation Fusion sedan for instance was a leader in quality. “I don’t think it’s something they have wrong in their processes,” he said, noting that they’ve probably just been trying to do too much. “Looking at Ford’s history I would expect over the next few years the reliability would drastically improve.”

Despite issues with PowerShift and MyFord Touch the current crop of Blue Oval cars and trucks is actually extremely competitive. Fisher said, “These Fords have the fundamentals right,” with nice packaging, good ride quality and competent handling.

Consumer Reports is a valuable resource not just for new-vehicle shoppers but for automakers as well. “We constantly take in all points of input and look at that as we continue development of our vehicles,” said Sherwood. When it comes to the company’s cantankerous MyFord Touch system, they’ve already shipped a number of updates. Complaints have actually dropped 50 percent since the system launched a couple years ago.

SEE ALSO: Top 10 Least Reliable Cars and Trucks

In spite of its widely publicized issues, customers are drawn to MyFord Touch. Talk about a paradox! Sherwood said, “Last year the mix was around 12 percent,” meaning a little more than one out of every 10 buyers purchased the infotainment system. But today he said a whopping 50 percent of customers opt for the technology. “People are buying more feature-rich vehicles [from us]” he said, which is good for the company’s bottom line.

2013 Ford F-150 LariatSherwood said buyers of F-150 pickups equipped with MyFord Touch are the company’s most satisfied customers. Additionally, drivers with MyFord Touch-equipped vehicles are more satisfied than motorists that don’t have it.

Technologies like MyFord Touch, inflatable seat belts and active park assist are all part of the company’s efforts to lead the industry instead of following the competition. “It’s been just a huge push for us to innovate… to have the freshest product on the market,” Sherwood said.

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With all of the problems it’s faced in recent years one might expect the company to slow things down a little bit, but surprisingly that’s not the case. Ford will remain just as aggressive with its new vehicle and technology launches, but it’s going to focus on quality like never before. “I think overall it’s just really balancing the pace of innovation and product freshness” said Sherwood, adding, “We really did stretch ourselves [thin] and learned important lessons.”

The key to growth in the automotive industry is product freshness. Companies can no longer launch a vehicle and then leave it on the market for a decade without any updates. In years past Ford had a bad habit of introducing cars and trucks and then practically forgetting about them, but no more said Sherwood.

Citing Bank of America’s recently released Car Wars report he said the company is expected to have the best product-replacement rate in the industry. That means it will have one of the freshest lineups in the business, something that should attract buyers to the Blue Oval brand. Because of its aggressiveness and appealing new vehicles Bank of America projects Ford will gain one point of market share by 2017, a significant improvement in today’s highly competitive market. Hopefully they can get past the issues plaguing them right now and make Quality Job 1.

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