DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. is battling problems with new technologies, as shown by consumer complaints about the MyFord Touch controls system. But CEO Alan Mulally is adamant that Ford will continue to be a technology leader.
Mulally admits that Ford may have relied too much on touch-screen controls and underestimated the growing sophistication of an alternative: voice controls. But he strongly defends embracing advanced electronics that enable customers to remain connected in their vehicles.
He says as cars become more like consumers' electronic devices, car owners will build closer ties to their dealers.
"We want to move to the place where you have this enduring relationship with your Ford store just like your Apple store. You go in, you get the latest upgrades on the technology and off you go," Mulally told Automotive News.
He thinks consumers will come to dealerships "every six months to a year" for system upgrades.
The "ongoing relationship of continuously increasing the capability of your vehicle" will make good dealers critical to Ford's success, he said. "The people who do that really well are going to take customer loyalty to another level."
Customer frustrations with the MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch control systems were one reason that Ford scored poorly in the latest Consumer Reports auto reliability survey. Despite those complaints, Ford won't retreat from its efforts to be the industry leader in new technologies that meet customer needs, Mulally said.
"Have we learned a lot? Yes. Are we going to back off on leading and on figuring out what customers really want and value? Absolutely not. We're committed to the customer," he said.
One misstep, he said, may have been the company's decision to give Ford buyers multiple ways of controlling the increasingly complex electronics in their cars.
Some consumers, he said, prefer touch-screen controls. Some prefer voice activation, while others like controllers such as those used in consumer electronics and video games.
Ford built all three into its systems. But in doing so, it underestimated the progress that was coming in voice-activated commands, Mulally said.
When Ford started developing the system, he said: "We only had like 100 voice commands. Today we have 10,000 voice commands. In hindsight, we probably would've focused more on the voice activation and maybe a little bit less on the touch screen and then brought that technology along a little slower.
"All three of them are really important to consumers, so I think continuing to focus on them and continuously improving them is the thing to do."
In other comments, Mulally acknowledged that Ford has struggled with some of its recent vehicle launches. He attributed the problems to suppliers' difficulties in ramping up output after the recession and to Ford's active launch schedule.
"We are ramping up production, and we are introducing more new models than Ford ever has, and that's a lot of work," he said.
"We took down the supply base during the recession to get it right-sized," he said. Now, "we're bringing the entire supply base back up with more new vehicles than we ever had, and we ran into some issues on being able to do that."
Mulally also said he's eager to move into a more strategic role now that he has turned day-to-day operations over to newly anointed COO Mark Fields. From December, Fields will run the weekly Thursday morning business plan review meetings and all business units will report to him.
"I can't wait for my first meeting where Mark leads the meeting instead of me and I'm there supporting him just like he has been supporting me," Mulally said.
He said he wouldn't be looking over Fields' shoulder. But should Fields need help, Mulally will be there to provide it. "I'm really good help," Mulally said. "If you want to do something, I'm a good person to ask to be on your team."