DETROIT -- Dealers should start receiving packets from Ford Motor Co. today containing USB drives with the revised version of the controversial MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch infotainment systems.
On Thursday, the company will mail packets containing the USB drives, also known as thumb drives, to about 300,000 customers who bought vehicles with the first generation of the systems.
In letters accompanying the thumb drives, Ford will explain to customers that they can upgrade their systems, but if they are uncomfortable doing that, they can go to dealers for the installation.
Ford had announced the system upgrade in November after complaints about the systems hurt the automaker's scores on quality surveys. It said at the time that the thumb drives would be mailed in the first quarter.
Ford officials said it would take one hour to download the upgrades. During the first half hour, customers can change radio stations and change the temperature. During the last half hour, the screen will be frozen, preventing changes in the audio or climate controls, said Michelle Moody, Ford cross-vehicle marketing manager.
If the customer turns off the vehicle in the middle of the upgrade, the process should resume when the vehicle is turned back on, she said.
"We highly recommend that you do it from end to end," she said.
The packets also include a notification letter and an updated user guide. Some customers will receive memory cards with updated map date for their navigation systems.
Upgrades will be sent to owners of MyFord Touch-equipped vehicles outside the United States after the initial mailing to U.S. customers.
The upgraded system simplifies the graphics and speeds response times on touch- and voice-activated functions.
It also eliminates some of the features that annoyed customers previously. For instance, customers who wanted to warm up their vehicles on winter mornings found they had to wait before they could punch the seat heater buttons, which didn't work until the entire system booted up. Then they had to burrow down through three menus to get to the buttons. Now those buttons pop up with the home screen and work as soon as the car is turned on.
Gary Jablonski, Ford product development manager for infotainment, believes the MyFord Touch upgrade could be a "tipping point" in educating customers that they can upgrade their cars just as they can upgrade their computers and mobile devices.
Ford started working on an upgrade of the system as soon as it was launched in August 2010 on 2011 models including the Ford Edge and Explorer. It was added the 2012 Focus. The system was available on the Lincoln MKX and MKT in 2011. Owners of those vehicles will get the upgrades.
The first 2013 models containing the upgraded system have started to roll off the assembly line including the 2013 Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS sedans and the Lincoln MKT crossover. The 2013 Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT crossovers will also get the system.
Ford said customer order rates for MyFord Touch have increased five percentage points going into the new model year for Explorer and Edge. They already were 79 percent for the Explorer and 72 percent for the Edge. The company says 56 percent of consumers have said that Sync and MyFord Touch were important to their purchase decisions.
Ford hopes the upgrades will answer consumer complaints that the original touch-screen system was confusing to use and distracting. Problems with the system contributed to a big drop for Ford in the Consumer Reports and J.D. Power and Associates customer satisfaction surveys.
In the most recent Consumer Reports survey, released Tuesday, Feb. 28, Ford dropped the most, from fifth to 10th place. Subpar reliability on some new models hurt the automaker. The magazine cited "the troublesome MyFord Touch infotainment system and Power-Shift automatic transmission" as reasons for the downgrade, even though Ford's road test scores improved by two points over 2011.
Ford tested the upgraded system on 1,700 of its employees who owned the models with the first-generation system. A handful of dealers participated in the test. Moody said a dealer committee gave its feedback. She said dealers are prepared to help customers download the system.
All age groups, from early 20-somethings to those in their 60s, participated.
Jablonski said, "Our biggest challenge was that we have to appeal to the iPhone generation and to the 'I-barely-own-a-cellphone' generation."