Automotive > In-Vehicle UX Blog

Ford Punished for Taking the Technology Lead

by Chris Schreiner | Jun 24, 2011

I’ve written on more than one occasion in this blog defending MyFord Touch, and it looks like it’s time to do it yet again. JD Power released their Initial Quality Rankings, and the biggest story was Ford plummeting from 5th to 23rd. While issues with the dual clutch transmission contributed, the focus surrounding the fall has been on MyFord Touch and customer issues with usability. When we evaluated the user experience of MyFord Touch with consumers , we found the voice interface to be very compelling. Some users found it overwhelming at first and had difficulty with discoverability of features due to the tab structure  on the touchscreen, but once they used the voice interface, they were sold.

Ford’s plummet shouldn’t be taken as a rejection of MyFord Touch by consumers. Instead, the ranking free-fall likely came for other reasons:

  1.  Software flaws which reportedly produced black screens and nightly resets which Ford and Microsoft have been addressing
  2. There is not a lot of separation between the automakers in the rankings, so a few additional problem can greatly affect one’s ranking
  3. JD Power’s method for calculating the rankings

JD Power includes consumer issues with design and usability in their rankings, and those problems (from what I can tell) are given the same weight as manufacturing defects. The IQS looks at problems per 100 vehicles, and doesn’t differentiate between a stuck accelerator and whether the voice interface works with the driver’s particular accent.

With MyFord Touch taking the lead in bringing technology to the mainstream and promoting voice control, there will undoubtedly be some consumers who run into problems. With technology, even the best-designed systems typically have some minor usability issues. The problem is that Ford’s competition has lagged behind, and so they have fewer things that could be a problem.

With more complex technology comes more issues, so should Ford or other OEMs be dissuaded from pushing the bar in terms of in-vehicle technology to avoid the bad PR? I would hate to see that happen. Nor should it be forgotten that by pushing technology, Ford has shown well in other JD Power rankings, dominating the 2010 U.S. Navigation Usage and Satisfaction Study. 

What also should not be lost in this is the view from JD Power, as mentioned in the Detroit Free Press: “Sometimes a pioneering technology, such as Ford's voice-commanded vehicle control system, may meet resistance that shows up as a quality flaw in short-term quality surveys…But in the long term, it almost certainly will be a very good idea."

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