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Ford to upgrade, extend warranty on touch-screen system

By Nichola Groom

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co will upgrade and extend the warranty by two years on its MyFord Touch system following a series of consumer complaints and poor reviews of the No. 2 U.S. automaker's touch-screen entertainment and navigation system.

Ford has improved the voice recognition capability and navigation in what it calls "version 3.5" of the software, Mark Fields, Ford's head of the Americas, said on Wednesday. Ford will offer the first wave of updates to some users on December 10.

"We're thinking more and more like not only a car company, but a technology company," Fields said during a roundtable with reporters during the Los Angeles Auto Show. "It's very important to update the vehicles on a more frequent basis particularly around software and applications."

Prospective car buyers highly value features like Bluetooth or the ability to stream music from their smart phones, analysts said. But so far, many automakers have struggled to create systems that are effective and intuitive.

In March, Ford upgraded MyFord Touch to address complaints about its slow speed and complexity, but even the update got poor marks from Consumer Reports magazine.

Ford said the latest version of MyFord Touch, which is in production now, can better recognize natural speech and features a more simple Bluetooth pairing process.

Ford is also extending the warranty on the system in its Ford brand vehicles to five years with unlimited miles, up from three years and 36,000 miles.

The software on Lincoln vehicles will now be covered for six years with unlimited miles, up from four years and 50,000 miles.

Ford will offer the latest upgrade to drivers without navigation next month. Vehicle owners with navigation will receive updates in January. Owners of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles will be issued updates sometime during the first quarter, Ford spokesman Alan Hall said.

Vehicle owners can request USB drives from Ford with the updated software, download the software onto their own USB drives or go to their local dealer, Hall said.

'REAL TIME' RESPONSE

These moves show Ford is "committed to making sure that we are continuing to listen to customers and continuing to act more and more real time like software companies do," Fields said.

The automaker launched its Sync in-vehicle communications and entertainment system, which was jointly developed with Microsoft Corp , in 2007. The Sync software underpins MyFord Touch, which Ford launched in 2010.

Some 45 percent of car buyers said navigation systems that help drivers avoid traffic are very important to their purchase decisions, while 35 percent of drivers said the same of a car's ability to respond to voice commands, according to a survey by IBM to be released soon.

About 30 percent said entertainment systems were very important, particularly buyers between the ages 18 and 29.

Still, efforts by Ford, General Motors Co and other automakers have been widely panned.

Ford fell short of its quality goals partly because of glitches in MyFord Touch last year. As a result, top executives, including Chief Executive Alan Mulally, received smaller cash bonuses for 2011.

The automaker also tumbled in Consumer Reports magazine's annual survey of reliability last month.

Last week, Consumer Reports called GM's new CUE system for its Cadillac lineup, "convoluted and frustrating." GM said this week it was tackling the problem by educating dealers and new drivers about its systems.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; additional reporting by Deepa Seetharaman in Detroit; editing by Matthew Lewis and Andrew Hay)

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