Ford's Quality Is Down, and Here's How It Will Fix It

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FordFord's new-from-scratch Sync 3 in-car system will replace MyFord Touch over the next year.
From all appearances, Ford (F) has been making some great cars and trucks lately. Models like the compact Focus and midsize Fusion sedans win high praise from critics for their solid feel, sure-footed handling, and premium interiors -- and sales across the board have been pretty good.

But recently, Ford has taken a beating in the reliability department. Consumer Reports' latest auto-brand Report Card dropped Ford to 24th out of 28. Ford also fell well below average in the newest Vehicle Dependability Study from respected analyst firm J. D. Power.

What's the problem? Technology.

Glitches in MyFord Touch Hurt Ford's Rankings

J.D. Power's recent report said that the two top problems reported in its latest study were issues with "Bluetooth pairing/connectivity and built-in voice recognition systems misinterpreting commands."

Ford isn't the only automaker having problems on those fronts. But Ford is having more than its share of troubles with its infotainment system, which uses a touchscreen and voice commands to control many popular in-car features.

The MyFord Touch system is at the center of a lot of the consumer complaints behind the Blue Oval's low ratings. Owners say that MyFord Touch is slow, buggy, and not intuitive to use. And sometimes, it just freezes up. That's not good when you're trying to keep your eyes on the road.

Ford has tried updating the system's software several times. The updates helped, but the complaints have continued. Ford is now taking a drastic step -- throwing out MyFord Touch and starting over from scratch.

Ford Is Starting Over With Sync 3

The current MyFord Touch system uses hardware made by Sony (SNE) and an operating system made by Microsoft (MSFT). But that system won't be around much longer. Ford is replacing it in its 2016 Ford and Lincoln models with a new system, called Sync 3.

Sync 3 is designed from the ground up to be a lot easier to use -- and a lot less likely to crash. It uses a hardware system from Panasonic (PCRFY), which has recently made an aggressive push into automotive electronics with some well-regarded systems, and an operating system made by a company called QNX -- owned by Blackberry (BBRY).

QNX's in-car system has developed an enviable reputation for being resistant to "crashing" -- freezing up, or requiring a reboot. In other words, it just works. It's the ideal base for a system like this, and that's why QNX already counts BMW (BAMXF) Porsche and Honda (HMC) among its customers.

Now Ford will join them.

So Far, the New System Looks Like a Big Improvement

Ford demonstrated the system at the Consumer Electronics Show back in January. Consumer Reports -- one of the harshest critics of MyFord Touch -- gave the new system a tentative nod of approval.

"With a simpler layout and larger buttons, more intuitive menus, and a faster response time that Ford promises will carry over to production models, Sync 3 appears to be off to a good start," the magazine wrote. The reviewers said that they were "cautiously optimistic" that the new system "could be a winner."

Other reviewers have noted that Sync 3's voice recognition capabilities have been greatly improved over those in MyFord Touch. It integrates more easily (and more extensively) with smartphones than its predecessor, and it has the ability to receive "over the air" updates. Updating MyFord Touch requires a visit to a dealer.

Will Sync 3 Give Ford's Quality Ratings a Boost?

If you're thinking about buying a new Ford, and if these kinds of features are important to you, it might be worth holding off until the new Sync 3-equipped models start showing up at Ford dealers later this year.

For the most part, Ford's quality has come a long way over the last few years. The latest Fords are quieter and more refined than their predecessors, with premium interiors and lots of thoughtful touches.

But the MyFord Touch system's glitches have held the company back. If Sync 3 turns out to work as well as Ford expects, it could give the company's quality ratings a significant boost.

Motley Fool contributor John Rosevear owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.
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