DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co.'s CEO said today the automaker will improve its in-vehicle technology called MyFord Touch, but won't remove it despite recent criticism that the technology is a driver distraction.
“The position we took a few years ago was that we will be operating in a wired world,” CEO Alan Mulally told a group of auto analysts at the Detroit auto show. “The best value we could add was to enhance the driving experience and make us better drivers. The best way to do that is to have your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road and everything is voice activated.”
Earlier this month, Consumer Reports magazine said it won't recommend the 2011 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossovers because of low test scores -- mainly due to MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch technology. That is Ford's touch-screen technology, used to control such things as temperature, music and cell phone calls from a screen.
The magazine called the technology “a complicated distraction while driving.” It said “first-time users might find it impossible to comprehend. The system did not always perform as promised.”
But Mulally insisted: “Over time, it's going to get to a place where it's almost a conversation. All the data says if you have your eyes on the road, your cognitive ability is fantastic and you're even a better driver.”
Ford says about 82 percent of Ford Edge cars ordered have the MyFord Touch option on them. And of those owners who have Ford's Sync system — another voice controlled vehicle technology — 70 percent of them regularly use it.
“The world is moving this way,” Mulally said. “We're going to use everybody's input including Consumer Reports' to make (MyFord Touch) better and better. I really think we're on the right path.”
Such devices designed to minimize driver distraction are also drawing more scrutiny from federal safety officials, including Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and David Strickland, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Federal safety officials have launched studies to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of wireless and other communications technology, and the role it can play in curbing driver distraction.
But they insist the government will not overlook the role human behavior plays in driver distraction.
"I'm looking forward to the day," Strickland said last week at the Consumer Electronics show, "that distracted driving is as demonized a behavior as drinking and driving."