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How Ford Is Finally Fixing Its Biggest Quality Problem

Ford's touchscreen "infotainment" system, shown here in a 2015 Ford Expedition, has been very popular. But it has generated a lot of complaints, and those complaints have hurt Ford's quality rankings. Photo credit: Ford Motor Co.

Since its arrival several years ago, Ford's  (NYSE: F  ) SYNC voice-activated "infotainment" system has mostly been hailed as a good thing. But MyFord Touch, the touchscreen system that Ford created to build on SYNC's initial success, has generated tons of complaints and clobbered Ford's quality rankings.

The irony is that MyFord Touch has been a big success for Ford in terms of sales -- Ford says that over half of its new models are sold with the MyFord Touch options package. That has given Ford's profits a nice boost. But the complaints have piled up: It's buggy, it's hard to use, and no less an authority than Consumer Reports has suggested that it could even be a safety hazard, because its flaws could distract drivers.

This has turned into a huge headache for Ford. Ford has made huge improvements to the quality of its cars and trucks over the last few years. Most experts now rate them on par with the best Japanese brands -- except for the flaws in the MyFord Touch system, which consistently costs Ford big in the quality rankings.

Ford has repeatedly tried revising and updating the MyFord Touch software, but the complaints persist. Now, as Fool contributor John Rosevear explains in this video, Ford is preparing to take more drastic action: Dumping the Microsoft  (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) operating system that powers SYNC and MyFord Touch in favor of a proven system from, of all companies, Blackberry  (NASDAQ: BBRY  ) .

A transcript follows the video.

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John Rosevear: Hey, Fools, it's John Rosevear. It looks like Ford is finally taking big steps to upgrade its SYNC and MyFord Touch systems. Bloomberg reported earlier this week that Ford was planning to dump the current operating system it uses for SYNC, which is made by Microsoft, in favor of a rival system called QNX, which is made by a company that is owned by BlackBerry, and we've since seen reports from several other outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, that seem to confirm this.

Now, this is great news for BlackBerry, which has seen huge declines in its smartphone business, and it's a blow for Microsoft, but what I really want to talk about is what it means for Ford. Over the last several years, Ford has made huge strides in upgrading the quality of its vehicles. We've gotten to the point where a Ford Fusion or Focus is fully competitive with Toyota and Honda, which is just huge, given where Ford was a decade or so ago. But this system, the MyFord Touch system, has really held Ford back in overall quality rankings, with reviewers like Consumer Reports. Ford and Lincoln ranked 26th and 27th out of 28 in Consumer Reports' most recent reliability survey, and this system had a lot to do with that.

Ford's current line of cars and trucks are very very good, but the bugs in this system drive people nuts. They say it's glitchy, it's hard to use, its poorly laid out, and Consumer Reports has even said that it's kind of a safety issues because it distracts drivers.

Now, on the one hand, Ford sells a ton of these things. SYNC is the voice-activated system, and MyFord Touch adds the touchscreen interface. A Ford spokesperson told me today that for 2014 model year vehicles sold so far, 94% had SYNC and 51% also had the MyFord Touch system. And I'll tell you that these packages are very profitable for Ford. They add a lot of profit to every sale.

So Ford has two huge incentives here: First, they want their big quality gains to be recognized. They don't want this glitchy system holding them down in those rankings, because a lot of buyers take those rankings very seriously, and it's surely costing Ford some sales. Second, they want to sell these systems on as many Fords as they can, because that means big profits. So obviously it's in their best interest for Ford buyers to really love these systems, and find them easy to use, and show them off to their friends, and so forth.

This QNX system is already used by Audi and Porsche and BMW (NASDAQOTH: BAMXF  ) and Acura, so Ford will be in good company here, and apparently it's a lot easier to integrate with things like Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) iOS and with Android. Reports say that they're planning to roll it out in 2016. One question I haven't seen answered yet is whether current Fords that have the Microsoft system will be able to upgrade, but I'll see what I can find out on that front.

Thanks for watching, and Fool on.

Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (6)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 28, 2014, at 10:02 AM, eidsonb wrote:

    And I use this OS every day in my BB 10 phones. Should try OS there is...

  • Report this Comment On February 28, 2014, at 10:21 AM, TMFMarlowe wrote:

    I'm an iOS guy myself (AAPL shareholder since 1981, no lie), but I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how Ford implements QNX.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    John Rosevear

  • Report this Comment On February 28, 2014, at 1:50 PM, CardinHouston wrote:

    Consumer Reports is a biased towards Toyota, and Japanese cars in general. It is a good system even if a bit buggy.

  • Report this Comment On February 28, 2014, at 2:48 PM, sheldonross wrote:

    Well, most people know to take Consumer Reports with a large grain of salt, but some people still hold them in high regard. I find it somewhat disingenuous that CR uses flaws in the entertainment system to severely impact reliability ratings. I'm more interested in how things like the engine, transmission, suspension and body hold up. You know, the actually important things that determine car reliability.

    Ford ranks high in those, so it appears to me their weighting of MyFordTouch issues is disproportionately high.

  • Report this Comment On February 28, 2014, at 3:17 PM, notech47 wrote:

    There is nothing currently wrong with Sync. It is easy to operate, intuitive, updateable and has a high quality display. Someone needs to do a side by side video of Sync vs QNX. I don't believe Ford should make the switch because of people that have zero tech operating ability. I find that even the elderly generally like SYNC!

  • Report this Comment On August 07, 2014, at 3:17 AM, Saud wrote:

    Good, really nice information over here.

    Thanks man,

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John Rosevear

John Rosevear is the Fool's Senior Auto Specialist. John has been writing about the auto business and investing for over 20 years, and for The Motley Fool since 2007.

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