DETROIT, MI. — After redesigning virtually its entire model line in the last two years, Ford Motor Company’s attention is on refining its fuel-efficiency and technology leadership for the 2014 model year — after a year that includes the contradiction of customer survey complaints for balky complexity of certain technology features, coupled with unprecedented customer satisfaction numbers and high “take rates” on those same technology items.
Ford officials discussed those things while showing off the company’s new 2014 vehicles at the annual media preview at its Dearborn vehicle development facility. Included was a new Tremor model of the popular F-150 pickup line — a regular-cab model with special trim and a 365-horsepower EcoBoost V6.
Part of Ford’s recent technology is its arsenal of engines displacing 3.5, 2.0, and 1.6 liters, turbocharged to earn the EcoBoost designation while performing with the power of larger engines with significantly better fuel economy. This fall, Ford will add a unique 3-cylinder, 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine in the Fiesta subcompact. We eagerly hustled out onto one of Ford’s test tracks to try the 1.0 EcoBoost, but we were told it won’t be out until this fall. So we were satisfied by running the 1.6 EcoBoost Fiesta ST around an autocross course.
Another Ford advancement is its expansion of hybrid technology in the Fusion, promising fuel economy up to and beyond 100 miles per gallon in the Fusion Energi. Our drive in the Energi was restricted to a no-passing, single-file slow lap or two that proved little, except that the plug-in hybrid will work seamlessly when we get to try it in real-world driving.
Ford officials said they are pleased with the popularity of products in the Midwest and are making a focused effort, to coin a phrase, on expanding their market share on both the East and West Coasts. Among its array of new products, Ford is compartmentalizing the Fusion, Escape, Focus, Fiesta and C-Max into what it calls the “Super Segment,” because all have the size and advanced technology to appeal particularly to West Coast buyers.
“Our hybrid sales have been strong with the C-Max and Fusion,” said Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of the Americas. “In the first five months of this year, we sold more hybrids than in any full year.”
And that’s before the 2014 Fusion Energi.
Some of Ford’s biggest news in the past year has been explaining diminished initial-quality survey results for electronic connectivity twins SYNC and MyFordTouch, and the lack of smoothness of its new PowerShift direct-sequential automatic transmissions.
“We’ve cut the original MyFordTouch problems by half,” said Hinrichs. “And despite the complaints, the take rate on our technical features like SYNC and MyFordTouch are higher than any other company. Our PowerShift was criticized for a hesitation on shifts but it is a DSG, which has a different feel because it doesn’t have a torque-converter, but the fuel-economy is improved, so people still order it. We have smoothed it out. That’s our goal — to improve the technology but eliminate issues like that.”
Raj Nair, group vice president for global product development, amplified Hinrichs’s statements. “MyFordTouch and PowerShift have been the main two problems for initial quality complaints, but we’ve had higher customer satisfaction on vehicles equipped with MyFordTouch,” said Nair. “We’ve reduced the problems by 50 percent, but even with the problems, 74 percent of our buyers said they would recommend MyFordTouch to their friends.
“We also know we’ve got to improve the calibrations on our PowerShift. But while we’re working to correct those problems, we’re happy with our customer satisfaction statistics, and our improved warranty claims.”
It appears Ford’s connectivity issues are similar to advanced-technology smartphones; consumers want the latest technology, but that doesn’t mean they won’t grumble at complexities of operating them.
Hinrichs also took a subtleb shot at more conservative competitors. “We want to keep our designs fresh,” said Hinrichs. “Leveraging global platforms helps spread out expenses, but new styling means more new launches. If you don’t change, you have a better chance of leading the initial quality surveys, because you’re just refining an old model. Our Fusion, Focus and Fiesta all have new platforms, but the customer satisfaction with our overall build quality is very good, and our warranty calls are at an all-time best.”
Hinrichs said the market research indicates a car’s design is its No. 1 purchase attraction, and fuel economy is No. 2. The stylish appearances of Ford’s newest models puts them among the design leaders, and the EcoBoost and hybrid advances in fuel efficiency bolster Ford’s status.
Popular as the midsize Fusion has been in its first year of redesign, with both EcoBoost and hybrid models, the top-mileage Fusion Energi we briefly drove, with a plug-in hybrid gas-electric powertrain that is estimated at topping 100 miles per gallon, will follow for 2014. In addition, the subcompact C-Max comes only with electric power or hybrid. One of the most intriguing new Ford products is the Fiesta, the sporty and high-mileage subcompact, which will add a surprisingly peppy 1.0-liter, 3-cylinder EcoBoost (turbocharged) model that should challenge or surpass 40 mpg.
Ford’s emphasis on cars for 2014 doesn’t mean it’s abandoning trucks, where it has reinforced its industry lead. The F-150 pickup, top-seller in the industry for 36 consecutive years, topped 70,000 units sold in May — the most since March of 2007 — representing an increase of 22 percent in sales. “We’re proud of our trucks,” said Hinrichs, attributing the increase to the popularity of the EcoBoost V6. “We’ve increased our truck market share to 30 percent.”
The F-150 family will grow by a new model in 2014 with the Tremor, which will appeal to those interested more in street performance than work-duty. It is a short, regular cab pickup with its EcoBoost 3.5 V6 developing 365 horsepower, and it announces its arrival with all sorts of decal trim stripes.