New Car Quality Takes a Hit Due to Technology

By Dee-Ann Durbin, AP Auto Writer

DETROIT (AP) — Automakers, eager to meet customers' demands for new technology, have been racing to add gadgets to their dashboards, from backup cameras to touch-screen climate controls.

But an influential survey suggests they need to slow down, because the technology is taking a toll on quality.

Drivers reported more problems with their all-new or redesigned 2011 models than they did the year before, according to J.D. Power and Associates' annual survey of new vehicle quality, released on Thursday. Complaints about audio, entertainment and navigation systems got the bulk of the blame, and are up 28% since 2009.

The survey questioned 78,000 people about problems they had with 2011 model-year vehicles in the first 90 days of ownership. Owners reported an average of 107 problems per 100 vehicles. That jumped to 122 problems for cars that were new or redesigned for 2011, up 10% from 2010 model-year cars and trucks.

Overall, automakers got better scores than last year, because many carried over previous models into 2011 without major changes. Lexus, Honda and Acura were the top performers, all with less than 100 problems. Dodge was the worst-performing brand.

But new cars with new technology were a problem. They proved to be the downfall for Ford, which dropped from a fifth-place quality ranking in 2010 to 23rd this year.

Ford launched its My Ford Touch dashboard system on the Ford Edge and Ford Explorer crossovers in the 2011 model year. The system allows drivers to control climate, navigation, entertainment and other features by voice or through a touch screen.

Ford says 73% of owners with My Ford Touch say they're satisfied with the system. The company wants to help drivers do the things they're already doing — making calls, answering texts, playing music — without taking their hands off the wheel.

"This is a trend we can't ignore," said Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, at an event earlier this week.