Lawsuits against MyFord Touch move forward: will this discourage automakers from doing infotainment?

October 3, 2016

Remember MyFord Touch and MyLincoln touch, the infotainment systems that shoppers loved and loved to hate? Three years ago, owners sued Ford over the systems' glitchy, underwhelming performance. Now, many of those cases have been wrapped into a class-action lawsuit, which could mean a big payout from Ford.

You might argue that MyFord Touch, MyLincoln Touch, and the Sync system that both shared were simply ahead of their time. They promised to make driving easier by responding to voice commands, providing spot-on navigation, and syncing with owners' smartphones.

Unfortunately, the software never delivered on those promises. California's Center for Defensive Driving, one of the initial plaintiffs in 2013, accused MyFord Touch of "System lockup and total system failure; periodic non-responsiveness to peripheral devices (such as MP3 players and smartphones); and periodic non-responsiveness to voice commands".

As a result of complaints like those, Ford has taken a serious tumble in initial quality rankings. Frustrated owners have been forced to take their cars back to dealerships for updates and training.

The problems became so bad that in late 2014, Ford announced it was killing MyFord Touch and rebranding it as Sync. (The change also reflected a shift away from the Microsoft software on which MyFord Touch was built to the QNX mobile system developed by Blackberry.)

Of course, the new name did nothing to stop the onslaught of lawsuits from owners. In San Francisco, Judge Edward Chen has now granted class-action status to suits from nine states: California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.

Arguments are set for April 2017, with plaintiffs represented by the law firm of Hagens Berman--which is, interestingly, the same firm that represented VW dealers in their suit against Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz owners in their suit against Daimler.

In the courtroom, plaintiffs will argue that Ford sold them a defective, dangerous product. If they're successful, Ford could be forced to refund a portion of MyFord/MyLincoln Touch's purchase price or make other amends.

But we're just as interested to see what happens outside the courtroom. Infotainment systems like MyFord Touch are now the Achilles heel of the auto industry. Will car companies get the hint and get out of the infotainment business altogether, leaving it to the likes of Apple and Google? Or will they follow the lead of, say, Toyota, and stubbornly insist that their way is the only way?

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