Ford Finally Agrees to Buttons as It Revamps MyTouch System

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Ford has finally given in to the primordial leanings of its customers and decided to put more old-fashioned knobs and buttons on its infotainment controls. But the move—arguably, belated by two years—still might not be enough to save Ford this week from another poor third-party evaluation that got the brand into trouble in the first place.

Ford will reprise tuning and volume knobs for the radio as it redesigns existing models and introduces new ones, Raj Nair, Ford’s global product-development chief, told the Wall Street Journal. That’s because the company finally gave in to two years of complaints about the initial version of its touch-screen multimedia system, MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch, which essentially were a Version 2.0 of its popular Sync technology.

In 2011, reports by both J.D. Power and Consumer Reports—two of the most authoritative sources of independent evaluation in the business—slammed Ford for MyFord Touch because the touch-screen interface, voice-activiated controls and other aspects of the system confounded users. Power even labeled it a “quality” issue and dropped Ford from one of the top auto brands in its annual Initial Quality Survey to a below-average brand.[more]

The next annual Power “IQS” is due out on Wednesday. It isn’t yet clear if Ford is expecting to be slammed again by the Power ratings, but the timing of this week’s revelations makes it seem like word of Ford’s changes may be meant to take the edge off a report that the company knows or presumes will be negative once again.

What is also not clear is why Ford took so long to reach the conclusion that it just had to bring back some knobs and switches. Even before Power issued its report around this time two years ago, Ford executives including CEO heir apparent Mark Fields were telling journalists that they were on top of the situation. Then they proceeded to spend two years issuing software patches and new training directives for Ford dealers and sales personnel aimed at alleviating the MyFordTouch situation.

And now they’re finally signaling that they will begin to put in more knobs and buttons as models are updated or replaced—meaning that it could still take years to address this situation definitively?

“We’ve been able to spend a lot of time with customers to find what exactly are the areas that are bothering them,” Nair told the newspaper, in a thorough bit of understatement.

The other part of Nair’s quote belies what might have been the reason for Ford’s head-scratching delay in getting to the bottom of this issue: It wanted to protect the reputation of MyFord Touch because it was the ballyhooed follow-on to the much-heralded Sync system, which truly was an infotainment trailblazer.

“The satisfaction is higher on the vehicles equipped with MyFord Touch than without,” Nair said. But not nearly as high as it could have been, even by now, if Ford had jumped with effective dispatch on this issue earlier.

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