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Ford Braces For New Quality Study

DEARBORN -- (WWJ) Ford says the fix for its "My Ford Touch" technology system is going over well with customers, but it won't repair issues with quality ratings overnight.

VIDEO: Ford Marketing VP Jim Farley talks with reporters.

Customers described the connectivity system as "buggy" and "hard to use" and it hurt Ford on the much watched J.D. Power Initial Quality report. The 2012 version will come out late Wednesday morning.

"I expect us to be about the same as where we were last year," says Ford global vice president of quality Bennie Fowler. "Obviously, the "My Ford Touch" upgrade will be outside the survey window that we had."

Ford sent software upgrades to customers in March, a month after the latest J.D. Power survey ended.

"Our customers are saying that the performance upgrade has definitely improved their experience with the product," said Fowler.

Ford's marketing vice president Jim Farley says 90 percent of customers with "My Ford Touch" have upgraded their systems, and the vast majority did it themselves, without needing to go to a dealership. Ford sent USB thumb drives to customers, with instructions for the simple upgrade.

"We have this continuous improvement mentality," says Farley. "Our commitment extends beyond My Ford Touch."

Ford's own internal studies, Farley says, show that, among customers who upgraded, the "My Ford Touch" system had an approval rate that was 25 percentage points higher than before.

The Ford executive speaking at a briefing about global customer trends. Technology was seen as one of the most important trends.

"The really good brands, are the ones that are focusing on technology," said Farley, who pointed out that consumers will spend a trillion dollars on personal electronics this year.

Farley says he's keeping an eye on other important trends, pointing out that customers in Canada are taking out longer car loans, up to 7 and 7 and a half years. While people tend to have less disposable income in Canada, and keep cars longer, the reasons for the longer loans aren't clear.

"I don't know why," Farley told reporters. "It's something I'm watching, very, very carefully. It's a new trend that I haven't seen."

With GM's departure from paid Facebook ads, Farley defended Ford's decision to take an opposite strategy, saying it was a great way to connect with customers. No word if Ford will join GM in sitting out the Super Bowl this year.

Ford didn't have a Super Bowl ad last year, when GM and other automakers ran lots of ads. He says a lot depends on the needs of the products.

"Sometimes you need things like a Super Bowl. Sometimes you don't," he said. "It's very conditional on what you're launching and what you're trying to get a cross. The last few years, we didn't need that kind of venue. In the future, well, I don't know."

Many companies have been releasing their Super Bowl ads days, and even weeks, before the big game. That's a trend that Farley expects to continue.

"If you do the Super Bowl," he said. "It's not about the ad. It's about what happens before and after."

Connect with Jeff Gilbert
Twitter: @jefferygilbert

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