"Quality is job one," went the old Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) slogan. Yet the amazing, transformational shift in the auto industry toward high-tech information and entertainment systems has completely changed how we think about "quality" and "reliability" in our cars. These days, an automaker is just as likely to drop in quality ratings because of a subpar infotainment system as a below-average transmission.
Just ask Ford itself. Its MyFord Touch system -- which Consumer Reports has absolutely ripped apart -- has been a drag on the brand for a few years now. Ford executives have been concerned about this, obviously, and have done something about it.
Sync 3 will be replacing MyFord Touch, and is being rolled out in some Ford and Lincoln models this year.
I had a chance to talk with one of the automaker's top executives at this year's International CES in Las Vegas. Raj Nair is chief technical officer for Ford, and in this video he offers up a detailed look at Sync 3.
Ford was once again a major player at the big consumer electronics show in Las Vegas. CEO Mark Fields and chief technology officer Raj Nair delivered one of the keynotes, and took the opportunity to highlight Sync 3.
Raj Nair: "It's really a breakthrough system for us. We've really responded to the customer feedback. A much more responsive system. A user interface that's more similar to what you're used to in your smartphone or your tablet. Offering AppLink, which allows developers to integrate their own applications into Sync. That we've got the largest ecosystem out there."
But what are the specific improvements over MyFord Touch?
Raj Nair: "...certainly some of the focus that we had for SYNC 3 was much faster response times, faster boot-up times. A user interface that was a bit simplified and easier to use in the driving environment, and particularly one that's more similar to what customers are used to relative to smartphones or tablets. So it's a capacitive screen. You can do pinch and zoom. Swipe to get to a different menu. A menu bar with the most often-used functions below. An application area to hit apps and other apps that will come up. Much better speech recognition..."
Siri voice: Please say a command.
Driver: Call Tom.
Raj Nair: "So, in terms of driver distraction, keeping your eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, and using speech to load navigation systems. A more intuitive way to load addresses into your navigation system."
Significantly, the overhaul also means new partners for Sync 3. Ford is forgoing Microsoft for BlackBerry's QNX operating system. And Panasonic joins up on the hardware side... while Apple stays on with its Siri Eyes-Free capability for iPhone users.
Ford is hoping Sync 3 gets it past the baggage of MyFord Touch, but unfortunately the new system is not backward-compatible and your existing system won't be updated.
Foolish bottom line: Sync 3 is a big deal for Ford, and will likely improve reliability ratings and with it the company's brand. Consumer Reports, at least, is, quote, "cautiously optimistic" with what it's seen so far. We'll see what you the consumer actually have to say about it once Sync 3 rolls out in new Ford and Lincoln models later this year.
Reporting from Las Vegas, I'm Motley Fool analyst Rex Moore.