When Duvall Ford in Clayton, Ga., received a packet containing MyFord Touch software upgrade kits last Tuesday, owner Jeff Duvall immediately dispatched one of his technicians to the lot to install the revamped software on nine unsold 2012 Ford Edges and three Explorers.
The tech's job was simple but time consuming. Turn on the vehicle. Plug the memory stick, also known as a thumb drive, into the USB port. Let the engine idle while the upgrade runs. Wait about an hour.
Upgrading the software on unsold vehicles is just the beginning for Duvall and other dealers in helping Ford upgrade its trouble-plagued MyFord Touch infotainment system. The little thumb drive represents a milestone of sorts in service bulletins: Vehicle owners can do the upgrade without visiting a dealership. But will they?
Ford mailed the software kits last week to about 300,000 owners who bought vehicles equipped with the first generation of MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch. Now dealers are waiting to see how many customers will perform the upgrades at home and how many will bring their vehicles in to let the dealership do it.
Said Duvall: "I expect our more mature customers to come in and ask us to do it and the younger customers to do it themselves."
To ease the inconvenience of customers who come into the dealership, Ford is going to pay for a rental car for one day. Owners who perform the upgrade at home will face other forms of inconvenience.
For example, during the second half of the roughly hour-long process, they won't be able to change audio or climate-control settings.
In an instructional video Ford posted on youtube.com, a technician says customers can perform the one-hour upgrade while driving. Or they can do it with the vehicle at idle, and "do a crossword puzzle, read a book or just do whatever you feel like doing."
But the video cautions customers to be sure they are "in a ventilated area" and to leave the vehicle running until the installation is complete.
The MyFord Touch system has turned into a major headache for Ford and its dealers. Customers have complained that the system is overly complicated and prone to glitches, such as blank screens and slow response times. Consumer complaints have hurt Ford in major customer satisfaction surveys.
The upgrade provides simpler graphics and faster response times.
It also eliminates some annoying quirks. For instance, customers who wanted to warm up vehicles on cold mornings had to wait for the system to boot up completely before they could press seat-heater buttons, which were buried in a system of menus. Now the seat-heater buttons are on the home screen, ready immediately.
Around Christmas, Ford sent Beta versions of the upgrade kits to a test group of 1,700 people, primarily employees and a few dealers. People of all age groups, from early 20-somethings to those in their 60s, participated in the test.
One of those dealers was Collin Sewell, owner of Sewell Ford-Lincoln in Odessa, Texas, and chairman of the Ford National Dealer Council, which helped with suggestions for improvements. "My service people are telling me the installation is very easy," he said.
Gary Jablonski, Ford product development manager for infotainment, says 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.
"Our biggest challenge," he said of the system and the upgrade, "was that we have to appeal to the iPhone generation and to the 'I-barely-own-a-cell-phone' generation."