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Despite Problems, Ford Expanding Commitment as Sync Celebrates Fifth Anniversary

Live operator assist will be included with new Lincolns.

by on Nov.09, 2012

New Lincoln models, such as the 2013 MKZ, will get an expanded suite of Sync Services, including live operator support, free for three years.

Despite some persistent carping about the system’s effectiveness and ease of use, Ford Motor Co. and Microsoft are celebrating the fifth anniversary of the partnership which spawned the groundbreaking Sync voice-activated infotainment system.

With over 5 million Ford vehicles in the market using the technology – but with complaints leading to recent declines in quality and customer satisfaction surveys – Ford says it will stick with Sync and related systems like MyFordTouch, but also find ways to improve the usability of those technologies.

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It will also offer more features, Ford announcing that it will now offer three years of Sync Services — the upgraded version that provides live operator assist – on all 2013 Lincoln models. That notably includes the all-new Lincoln MKZ.

Ford was one of the first automakers to get into the telematics field, though competitors like BMW appeared to steal a march with technologies like the German maker’s iDrive. The game changed significantly with the launch of Sync, which Ford developed in cooperation with software giant Microsoft.

The technology allows for the use of voice control and delivers a range of features that can include satellite navigation, as well as news, stocks, weather updates and even a handy way of finding the cheaper local source of gasoline.

Sync is the centerpiece of Ford’s latest voice and touch-based infotainment systems, MyFordTouch and MyLincolnTouch. But despite their many features, Consumer Reports recently cited problems with usability as a major reason Ford had plunged in the magazine’s annual automotive reliability survey. The technology has also hurt Ford’s score on various J.D. Power studies, such as the annual Initial Quality Survey.

Ford officials acknowledge there are issues and promise to improve the user interface. But they also insist that Sync and related technologies have helped them boost sales, especially among tech-savvy younger buyers.

“SYNC has helped us evolve as an automaker, to think and act more like a technology company, with a new level of openness and access that has forever changed how we look at our business and respond to our customers,” said Paul Mascarenas, chief technical officer and vice president, Ford Research and Innovation. “Ultimately, SYNC embodies what Ford is all about: going further to transform innovative ideas into products that are affordable, attainable and valuable to millions of people.”

When Ford and Microsoft first initiated the collaboration in 2005, the engineering teams recognized that mobile electronics were quickly becoming an increasingly important part of people’s lives as cell phones and digital media players. Considering how quickly mobile device usage had grown in just the previous few years, the development team decided a new development approach was needed going forward.

Of course, Ford is not alone. Virtually every major automaker now offers a competing system, such as BMW’s iDrive, Chevrolet’s MyChevyLink and Toyota’s EnTune. Kia, meanwhile, developed a very Sync-like system with Microsoft once Ford’s exclusive agreement expired.

Such technologies have, for many younger buyers, become the modern passion play for younger motorists who have less of a fixation for cars than earlier generations. But with technology-related issues now the single biggest source of complaints in automotive quality and customer satisfaction surveys, it’s clear Sync and its competitors have a lot of work ahead.

Paul A. Eisenstein contributed to this report.

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