Ford deserves credit for being a front-runner in offering advanced infotainment technology with its Sync and MyFord Touch systems, but continued consumer complaints over its confusing touchscreen interface and capacitive controls has made the automaker relent. The Wall Street Journal reports that physical buttons and knobs for controlling tuning and volume will be coming back to Ford vehicles equipped with the controversial infotainment system.
The 2013 F-150 with MyFord Touch gives us a glimpse of what the new layout with buttons and knobs might look like, as Ford says a similar balance of touch screen capability and buttons/knobs are what's being planned for future models. And, while capacitive controls have no fans in the halls of Autoblog, many of Ford's models with MyFord Touch do have a large physical knob for adjusting volume with integrated buttons for tuning and advancing tracks, though most of those are models with the optional upgraded Sony Audio system. Lincoln models with MyLincoln Touch, however, feature only capacitive controls for all stereo and climate functions.
Despite receiving enough complaints to throw buttons and knobs back into the mix (a move that reminds us of BMW's iDrive trajectory, among others), Ford reports that Sync and MyFord Touch have still been sold on 79 percent of its 2013 model year vehicles, a number it claims is double the rate that Honda and Toyota are getting for their infotainment systems. Ford also states that owners who do opt for the duo of technologies are more satisfied with overall vehicle quality than those who don't have it.
While Ford's own numbers may show high rates of satisfaction, other surveys, specifically the J.D. Power & Associates Initial Quality Study, have taken a hit in recent years on account of new owners reacting to MyFord Touch and its buttonless capacitive controls. Ford's ranking in the IQS plummeted to below average in 2011 after the system's debut, which prompted a significant update for MyFord Touch the following year that fixed bugs, improved the user interface and improved the voice recognition. Nevertheless, Ford still ranked below average in the 2012 IQS survey, and today's news of physical buttons and knobs returning to the center stack comes just two days before the release of results for J.D. Power's 2013 IQS. Another system update will be released the summer, and Ford has increased warranties for all models equipped with the system.
In testing the durability of its upcoming fullsize Transit vans, Ford has begun using autonomous robotic technology to pilot vehicles through the punishing courses of its Michigan Proving Grounds test facility. The autonomous tech allows Ford to run more durability tests in a single day than it could with human drivers, as well as create even more challenging tests that wouldn't be safe to run with a human behind the wheel.
The technology being used was developed by Utah-based Autonomous Solutions, and isn't quite like the totally autonomous vehicles being developed by companies like Google and Audi for use out in the real world. Rather, Ford's autonomous test vehicles follow a pre-programmed course and their position is tracked via GPS and cameras that are being monitored from a central control room. Though the route is predetermined, the robotic control module operates the steering, acceleration and braking to keep the vehicle on course as it drives over broken concrete, cobblestones, metal grates, rough gravel, mud pits and oversize speed bumps.
Scroll down to watch the robotic drivers in action, though be warned that you're headed for disappointment if you expect to see a Centurion behind the wheel (nerd alert!). The setup looks more like a Mythbusters experiment than a scene from Battlestar Galactica.
The attractive new 2013 Ford Fusion has done wonders for the brand in the highly competitive midsize sedan segment - the vehicle is up nearly 22 percent compared to last year. But that sales momentum may soon hold steady due to low inventory levels of the new Fusion across the United States.
According to a report in The Detroit News, citing automotive data and Ward's Auto, Ford currently has a 39-day supply of the Fusion. That might sound fine, but a normally healthy average is about a 60-day supply. If Ford were to stop production on the Fusion today, there would only be enough vehicles available to get through another five weeks of sales, according to the News.
Currently, Ford produces the Fusion at its three-shift assembly plant in Hermosillo, Mexico, and will add production at its facility in Flat Rock, MI later this year. A Ford spokesperson told The Detroit News that when Flat Rock production comes online, the automaker will need to rush new stock out to the regions with the most demand for the Fusion. Ford has doubled its coastal retail market share, with huge amounts of growth in areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami, the News reports.
The Hermosillo plant is capable of producing roughly 300,000 Fusions annually, and Flat Rock should be able to make another 100,000 or so each year. This added production in Michigan - more than 8,000 units each month - would easily allow Ford to catch up to segment-leaders like the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry.
Each of those words are synonyms for big and bold - combine all four and you've got one of the largest, most powerful and robust street-going sport utility vehicles in the world.
John Hennessey is a Texas-based tuner known for creating some of the fastest and most capable cars on the planet. Over the past two decades, machines like the Viper Venom 550, Ford GT 1000 Twin Turbo, HPE 700 LS9 Camaro and the almighty Venom GT have emerged from the Hennessey Performance garage. And those are just the celebrated flagships; the company has modified thousands of other street cars including those from Audi, Bentley, Cadillac, Ferrari, Ford, Porsche and Toyota, to name a few.
Now, after tuning countless Ford F-150 SVT Raptor pickups and fielding multiple requests, the company has created something unique to fill a void in the performance-
oriented sport utility segment. It is called the Hennessey VelociRaptor SUV, and Autoblog was recently handed the keys to the very first example to hit the pavement.
We've said it before, but bears repeating: Pickup trucks are the financial engines of America's automakers. Good thing, then, that the segment is in rude health - in fact,Automotive News is suggesting that pickup truck sales are arguably healthier than they were pre-recession, even though the segment's volume is still significantly down from where it was before the bottom fell out of the US economy. That's because per-unit profits on full-size trucks are skyrocketing, outpacing the industry's average price increases by more than double since 2005. According to data from Edmunds, the average transaction price of a full-size pickup is now $39,915 - a heady increase over the $31,059 average price in 2005 - a gain of over 8 percent after inflation is factored in.
Just how important are trucks to automakers' bottom lines? Automotive News quotes a Morgan Stanley analyst as saying the Ford F-Series is responsible for90 percent of the company's 2012 profits, and General Motors isn't far behind, with the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra twins chipping in about two-thirds of the automaker's earnings.
Automotive News points out that Detroit's automakers now have the money to invest in modernizing their full-size truck offerings, in part because they don't have the same overhead and legacy costs that pushed General Motors and Chrysler into bankruptcy. Certainly, the pickup segment has seen a lot of innovations as of late, including turbocharged V6s, coil-spring rear suspensions and active aero. Those improvements in important areas like fuel economy and ride comfort have given existing pickup buyers new reasons to upgrade. In addition, automakers are piling on the tech and luxury goodies, creating more and more high-content, high-profit models like the Ford F-150 King Ranch, Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn and Chevrolet Silverado High Country (shown).
The near-term picture for pickup sales looks rosy, too - much of the segment's recent gains have come without a commensurate boost in new housing increases, traditionally one of the key indicators for pickup sales. With the economy's slow but upward trajectory, analysts are predicting a rebound in the housing market that could drive pickup sales levels to volumes unseen since 2004 and 2005.