DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co., working to fix glitches in dashboard touchscreens, said the software upgrades offered to customers came too late to improve quality scores in J.D. Power & Associates' new-model survey coming out Wednesday.
"We'll be about the same or slightly better," Bennie Fowler, Ford's group vice president of global quality, told reporters Tuesday in Dearborn, Mich. "The dramatic improvement we're expecting will come in the third quarter and, hopefully, we'll see that in" next year's survey.
Glitches with technology have lowered Ford's quality scores.
The automaker's namesake brand tumbled to 23rd from fifth in J.D. Power's new-car quality survey last year. Power said the Ford brand produced 116 problems per 100 models sold in the 2011 survey, placing below the industry average of 107 problems per 100 models last year.
The company's Lincoln luxury brand also dropped from above average to below, ranking 17th. Lincoln produced 111 problems per 100 models surveyed after 90 days of ownership, Power said.
The Westlake Village, Calif.-based market-research firm is scheduled to release this year's survey covering 2012 models on Wednesday.
Ford CEO Alan Mulally has made technology a pillar of his turnaround plan.
Fuel-efficient, turbocharged engines and features such as voice-activated phones have attracted younger buyers and pushed up prices.
U.S. buyers paid an average of $31,995 for Ford's models in the first quarter, up 26 percent from 2002, according to Edmunds.com.
Ford in March sent a software upgrade to 377,000 customers with the MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch dashboard controls.
J.D. Power measures quality on new cars from November to February, Fowler said.
The upgrade included faster touch responses, simpler graphics, enhanced voice recognition and improved phone controls, said Jim Farley, Ford’s global marketing chief.
Ford plans a further enhancement with the next upgrade so that outside temperature is displayed on the home screen, he said.
“The idea of an upgradeable car is right here, right now,” Farley said Tuesday. “We have a lot more to do as an industry and as Ford, but we’re headed in the right direction.”
Ford has said its quality performance this year will be "mixed" and fall short of its goal to improve on last year.
The automaker says it has also received complaints about a fuel-saving new transmission used in its Focus and Fiesta small cars.
The automaker's touch-screen dashboard controls still receive poor marks from owners, even after improving the software, said David Champion, auto-test chief with Consumer Reports magazine.
"They need to get these innovations right or just dump 'em," Champion said in a June 12 interview. "They've improved them slightly, but they're still not right."
Back on track
Other than the high-tech features, Ford’s basic quality remains good, Champion said. The automaker is seeing a reduction in the “basic things that break,” Fowler said.
“We’ve seen about a 40 percent improvement in our repair rate from this time last year,” Fowler said. “So we’re back on track in that regard.”
Warranty claims on MyFord Touch also have declined as Ford offered the software upgrades, Fowler said.
Some of the problems have been caused by Ford customers not understanding the technology, he said.
“We’re working on continuing to explain to our customers how to use the technologies,” Fowler said. “We’re also going to continue to refine all of our software to better listen to what the customer is saying.”