The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday (subscription required) that Ford would swap its MyFord Touch capacitive controls for physical knobs and buttons as it redesigns its cars. It's unclear which models will revert to physical controls, and when, but Ford told the newspaper that all of its models would eventually adopt a heavily revised system.
Product development chief Raj Nair told WSJ that Ford's surveys showed customers wanted to change channels or stereo volume through tried-and-true knobs, and Ford will bring some of those back. Already, a scaled-back version of MyFord Touch in the Focus compact and Escape SUV has physical climate controls rather than the capacitive ones found in the Fusion, Taurus, Edge and Explorer.
Ford released a statement today that said it sells a majority of its cars with MyFord Touch, and more Ford customers prefer voice commands and touch-screen functionality than those shopping Ford's competitors. The Ford F-150's MyFord Touch system — surprise, surprise — has the most buttons, and Ford said it has the highest customer satisfaction scores. Expect future MFT cars to follow the F-150 model.Our own Mark Williams, a senior editor at PickupTrucks.com who's had plenty of experience with the system, notes he hasn't had any issues with the button-filled MyFord Touch in the F-Series. It's a significant improvement over the capacitive versions in Ford's cars and SUVs, and Williams has received little negative feedback from F-Series owners about the system.
Ford's announcement comes as J.D. Power and Associates releases its influential Initial Quality Survey this week. IQS, which measures specific problems as well as customer dislikes, had Ford falling from fifth place among more than two dozen brands in 2010 to 23rd place in 2011 — a result shaped by a few popular 2011 redesigns that debuted the system. Four months later, in late 2011, Ford rolled out updated software to simplify the system and reduce lag, but the glitches persisted. In June 2012, J.D. Power's next IQS showed no improvement: Ford's luxury Lincoln division, which has a parallel MyLincoln Touch system, ranked below average, and Ford itself placed eighth from the bottom.
Consumer Reports piled on. In the magazine's 2011 reliability surveys, Ford's glitch-prone controls dropped the automaker 10 spots to a below-average 20th place. In 2012, Ford plunged even further, landing second from the bottom. Lincoln was third from the bottom.
"Capacitive controls function poorly, so that does hurt our ergonomic evaluation," Jake Fisher, who directs auto testing at Consumer Reports, told us in May. "Now, whether or not they fail is a whole other animal."
To measure reliability, Consumer Reports asked its subscribers if the systems actually had problems. And they did: "These were people who said it was not functioning, the screen went out [or] I had to bring it back to the dealer," Fisher said.
In our own press cars, we've experienced some of that.
Faced with such criticism, Ford hired experts from consumer electronics companies to improve the interface, WSJ notes. It assembled designers and engineers on a new board to improve functionality. Ford says it will release another MyFord Touch update this summer, presumably for current owners. Stay tuned to see how the automaker fares in this week's IQS.