By on October 7, 2016

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Customers welcomed Ford’s Sync3 infotainment system with all the enthusiasm of a child running across the tarmac to greet a returning serviceman, and with good reason.

The automaker’s MyFord Touch and Sync systems, launched at the beginning of the decade, caused irritated customers to pull out their hair and join together in a 2013 class-action lawsuit. Court documents obtained by The Detroit News now show that the frustration at Ford went all the way to the top.

In the documents, Ford engineers fret about the system’s many flaws, calling it “unsaleable.” They describe a later update — cobbled together with the help of Microsoft engineers in the wake of very harsh reviews — as a “polished turd.”

The problems plaguing the system were well-known before the technology hit the market in 2010, the documents reveal. In one company email sent before the launch, engineer Dominic Collella remarked, “Those poor customers.” Another commented that the proposed background image of Ford’s Oakville assembly plant should have a sign reading “abandon hope all ye who enter here” above the door.

The 2012 update didn’t win many fans in the engineering department either. In addition to the “turd” comment, another engineer called it “lipstick on a pig.”

While engineers worked to improve the systems, Ford executives found themselves in the same position as the brand’s customers — annoyed, frustrated, angry. And in one case, violent.

CEO Mark Fields, then president of the company’s Americas division, had a rough go with the system. The documents show repeated incidents, including failure to sync his phone with the system, and many touchscreen crashes. Fields referred to the shutdowns that plagued his Edge SUV as the “dreaded black screen.” In one incident, it seems the executive landed a knockout punch on the disabled hardware.

The system’s lead engineer, Kenneth Williams, reportedly received a photo of Fields’ smashed screen, accompanied by a message claiming the executive “may have been a little aggravated with the system.”

According to the documents, it seems Fields was the system’s harshest critic. After a 2013 complaint about his supposedly updated system, Fields went off in a company email, writing,  “Is this for real … do our customers literally have to wait for a fix until July!!! I started experiencing this back in early January … I don’t even use the system anymore.”

Triple exclamation mark.

Apparently, Fields wasn’t the only executive to vent frustration over the technology. Executive chairman Bill Ford and brother Edsel Ford both aired complaints. In one incident, Bill (great-grandson of Henry) found himself stranded in an unfamiliar area after his touchscreen bit the dust, disabling his vehicle’s navigation system.

Consumers in nine U.S. states have waited some time to get their pound of flesh, but they’ll have a little longer. The class-action lawsuit goes to trial in California in April 2017. In a statement, lead plaintiff’s attorney Steve Berman claimed, “At best, what consumers paid for amounted to a pricey inconvenience, failing to live up to even the most basic of Ford’s gilded promises. But in the worst scenarios, the failed MyFord Touch system’s defects can be a hazardous distraction to drivers.”

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70 Comments on “‘Polished Turd’: Docs Show What Ford Engineers and Execs Really Thought about MyFord Touch, Sync...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Oh no he did-ant!

  • avatar
    Zackman

    In this age, I really do not understand why these systems have to be so complex. Is it because of over-engineering? In a perfect environment, it works perfectly, but add one blip and everything goes haywire!

    Perhaps the engineers need to think along Russian lines: Assume the worst and keep things rugged and simple as possible.

    Right now, I’m happy with my 2012 Impala – no screen at all, just real knobs on the radio and a few push buttons to operate the message center on the bottom of the speedometer or on the radio. I can manage that.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      it’s no more complex than what’s in your pocket. SYNC is basically smartphone-level technology with a CAN interface to the car.

      the problems with the version of SYNC which launched in 2010 was it was poorly thought out. things like basing it on a slow single-core ARM chip and then using Flash for the user interface and apps.

      *Flash.*

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        Flash? Oh dear.

        I remember people losing their @#$% about Apple not supporting Flash on their phones while pushing HTML5 instead. Hindsight, Apple was right on the money to drop that mess.

        • 0 avatar
          jberger

          Apple didn’t support flash because they wanted to force an app model down on the iphone and create a walled garden with app store. It had nothing to do with flash limitations at the time.

          The issues with flash came up about 2 years later after Adobe built AIR and gained traction with Devs on iPhone over app store.
          Then came Jobs fury and “ban” of Flash on mobile in 2010.

          Jobs saw how AIR could be used to make an end run around App Store and decided to kill it before it broke open the garden.

          The main issues at Ford were that the auto guys thought they could develop software as fast as regular mobile developers. They had no idea how long that last 10% of the project can take.

          They are choosing hardware 18-24 months before the software is even being written or the spec is finalized. It’s very difficult to develop in that model if you haven’t been involved with application development and are learning as you go with a fixed deadline.

          They were using good hardware for 2009 but by the time they were ready to ship in 2012, it’s well out of date. The wanted the option to be cheap, so they didn’t have the margin to buy ahead in hardware, and they didn’t know how to develop software for phones, apps, etc. so they were lost there too.

          It’s not like there were a ton of well established 3rd party options when Ford was working on this, the market was very new and they were trying to get a foothold. I applaud the willingness to try new things, but the execution was terrible.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            If Apple really had been about forcing everything into the walled garden app store, it wouldn’t have supported HTML5 in the browser either.

            It refused to support Flash because Flash performed terribly, in terms of both speed and stability, on mobile hardware of the time. The user experience was abysmal. Even Adobe eventually admitted that and discontinued Flash for Android because it had never worked well enough to be worth using.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Nice post.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            Flash only ever worked well on a Windows PC, and in IE. it’s noticeably slower on *nix and macOS even on equivalent hardware. It’s a very CPU-intensive and would have (and did) run terribly on the slower ARM chips of the day.

          • 0 avatar
            KevinC

            @dal20402 – exactly right.

          • 0 avatar
            srh

            Apple’s flash aversion had nothing to do with the app store. The app store was not in their original plans. The flash aversion was due to stability issues, interface issues, and power consumption.

            Otherwise though I agree with your comments about Ford. I’ve had variations of Sync in two trucks and a Transit van. The interface is so bad that it must be an in-house project with little UX oversight. My employer is in a similar situation; large legacy company accustomed to multi-year design cycles trying to learn to compete with smaller more nimble competitors that iterate in months instead of years. It’s a real challenge; old developers just don’t want to hear that they are no longer relevant and executives assume that all developers are equal.

      • 0 avatar
        pragmatist

        And how long does your phone last before it’s junk???

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          irrelevant, since the components in the SYNC module are certified for automotive use. Automotive electronic modules have to survive temperature and vibration exposure which would turn an iPad into dust in short order.

          Robustness and durability are why automotive electronics are about 5 years behind the state of the art, and military electronics are close to 20 years behind. It depends on the specific automaker’s specs, but from all I’ve seen they expect interior electronics to be able to operate from at least -30°C to at least +75°C. I left my iPad in my truck for half an hour last winter when it was about 15°F, and when I got back it refused to wake claiming “high temperature” (LOL.)

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Ehhhh….. a good infotainment system is hard to come back from. I had some rentals on a vacation in Europe including a diesel Focus wagon with SYNC3, and it was really nice. Navigation got us to where we needed to go with ease; pairing up phones to Bluetooth was simple and easy, system was responsive enough.

      Admittedly for the daily grind it’s probably overkill… I don’t need navigation to tell me how to get to work, though it would be nice to get live traffic updates. But being able to control phone audio through the steering wheel with Bluetooth is really nice. I think it’s worthwhile.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      If you keep it super simple, you get panned for not having an attractive GUI or not enough features. The terrible looking head unit in my FR-S is probably the most stable one that I’ve used as far as consistently connecting to the phone and predictably acting based on what input I’m giving. It doesn’t read text messages, email, and the voice commands are limited to calling up a contact or changing the audio input. It is as bare bones as can be. Scion/Subaru changed the unit the next year to a more full feature system because that is what the customer is asking for. You can’t win on this one because even embracing Car Play or Android Auto is going to have bugs that come along with it because tech companies never get it right the first time and they always break something when they update the OS. They still lose because they need to have some sort of rudimentary UI for people with non-iOS or non-Android phones.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Well, in reading all these replies, Quentin said it pretty good: “If you keep it super simple, you get panned for not having an attractive GUI or not enough features.”

      It’s somewhat of a catch-22 no matter what.

      “Ferando” said it best: “It’s how you look!”

      • 0 avatar
        Mandalorian

        A lot of the noise behind the infotainment system complaints comes from biased journalists, not actual owners. The bias comes from the fact that they rotate in and out of many different cars quickly and never have time to overcome the learning curve of most systems. Pretty much any system, once one is familiar with it is fine.

  • avatar
    an innocent man

    Huh, I would’ve thought that partnering with Microsoft would’ve lead to a smooth, polished experience. Weird.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      did you RTFA? They called in Microsoft to *fix* it. MS had very little involvement with the development of MyFord Touch.

      • 0 avatar
        an innocent man

        I never read the articles. Straight to the comments for me.

      • 0 avatar
        an innocent man

        I misunderstood a CNET article. I misread “Introduced way back in 2007 in partnership with Microsoft, Sync was intended to make cars smarter,” to mean there was an actual partnership. My bad.

        https://www.cnet.com/roadshow/news/ford-sync-3-announced/

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          that was SYNC gen 1. the platform was developed by Microsoft (software) and Continental AG (hardware) and shopped around. Ford bit first and branded it SYNC for 2008. SYNC gen 2 (part of MyFord Touch) though still running atop Windows CE was developed mostly independent of Microsoft.

          • 0 avatar
            Adam Tonge

            BeSquare did a lot of the development work that Microsoft had to fix.

          • 0 avatar
            KevinC

            Windows CE was a dog with fleas even when it was a current product. They had ZERO chance of running a quality infotainment system on that disaster of an OS.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            that’s nonsense. Windows Phone 7 ran fluidly and responsively atop Windows CE, all the while on a single ARM core.

            SYNC’s problem was an underpowered SoC and the use of FlashLite on it. The core OS was not the problem.

            all of the hay made about QNX ignores that you can write bad UI and apps to run atop QNX as well; the first “MyGig” navigation radios offered by Chrysler were terrible. and they were QNX-based.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    this is just a light re-write of the Detroit News article.

  • avatar
    bachewy

    I have that POS in my ’14 Shelby. Not only is it irritating to use, it sounds like sh#T! My Tacoma has a better factory stereo and speakers.

    Don’t even get me started about trying to use the voice commands with Sync.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Was the problem Sync or the touchscreen system? As I recall, Sync itself wasn’t so bad.

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      Some of it was how they worked together.

      I had a lot of issues from late 2011 until late 2012. Since then, Sync2/MFT has been excellent. The only issue I’ve had with my C-Max is MFT randomly notifying me about old text messages.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      With SYNC gen 2/MFT, SYNC *is* the touchscreen system. SYNC gen 1 was an external module.

      • 0 avatar
        Adam Tonge

        Correct. But the biggest issue for me the end user was how what I said was processed and displayed graphically. It would get stuck, be slow, not work, or be wrong. They never did get it right on my 2012 Focus.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      By the time it was discontinued, MyFordTouch was pretty darned good. Definitely sluggish, but easily the most mature system on the market.

      The problem is that Ford was early to the game and early versions were problematic. Fixed in later versions (by the time others started releasing theirs), but it couldn’t overcome the negative impressions.

      If Ford had put the effort into continued development of MFT that they put into Sync2, it’d smoke the competition.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    I’m not sure if it’s better that Ford all the way up through Fields knew Sync was garbage and shipped it anyways, or would I rather have them thinking they were shipping a good product when they floated this turd out.

    Either scenario is damning.

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      If Fields punched out the MFT screen, I’d bet he didn’t know it was so shitty when it shipped.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        He did. At least he was informed it was. This may be a case of seeing is actually believing.

        • 0 avatar
          Adam Tonge

          I think he knew it was shitty. He had to know based on info from the plant. I don’t think he knew it was touchscreen punching shitty. Either way, seeing is believing.

          I wonder if this incident was before or after my wife got his direct number number and called it everyday. She wanted to punch him and MFT. I think she could take him.

  • avatar
    Avatar77

    Ford cheaped-out on the hardware, plain and simple. And, to top it off the software was half-baked at rollout. Better code, a dual-core processor, and additional RAM would gone a long way to cure what ailed the early versions of Sync.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    I really do not understand how Ford could let this POS on the road, and why do auto makers not just say , come on in apple, google, Microsoft develop the thing that works and we will license it from you.

    • 0 avatar
      Willyam

      Bullseye. Apple made their interface usable by anyone, with minimal RTFM time. I realize anyone else properly motivated “should” be able to do that…but no one does.

      I put a Sony double DIN in my old Honda, which looks great, sounds great, and modernized it quite a bit. However, trying to find a podcast on an iPod through the deck is an exercise in total frustration. I just use the AUX cable. And this is Sony, not amature-hour.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      the electrical architecture changed that model year as well, so the previous infotainment system was not forward-compatible.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Sync3 on my ’16 C-Max works fine, but the interface can be obtuse. I do wish everyone would just go to CarPlay/Android Auto. More users would give Apple and Google more incentive to fix bugs, and both of them are better than carmakers at interface design.

    But hardware fast enough to respond immediately is also necessary. I just don’t understand why the OEMs persist in cheaping out on this. It saves a few bucks at most, and it makes everyone hate your car.

  • avatar
    LS1Fan

    When I turn on my LS1,I turn a key-not a button.

    When I want a new track I press a button on the steering wheel.

    When I want more volume I press a different steering wheel button.

    Whe I parallel park, I use the 0GB capacity mirrors and Mk1 eyeball. Of course my car has rear windows, the kind made out of glass instead of hubris. I hear those are about to be optional equipment any day now?

    On that car the only computers are the ones underhood and the body control hardware. I don’t even use Google Maps on my phone in that thing; because sometimes getting lost in the drive is exactly the point.

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      I don’t want to get “lost in the drive” when going to work.

      • 0 avatar
        LS1Fan

        You need a computer to tell you how to drive somewhere five times a week?

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          Absolutely. The system I use monitors traffic in real time – even on side streets. It also calculates the fastest route in realtime. An accident ahead on the freeway? No problem because it will warn me to get off an exit before the problem and route me around it on back roads.

          Once coming home after midnight, it routed me along on back roads for quite a distance. It put me back on the freeway just after an overnight road construction crew had set up. I could see headlights for a mile back as I crossed over the freeway on the way to the on-ramp.

          So yeah, I depend on a computer to get me around. Best damned co-pilot (in a car) that I’ve ever had.

        • 0 avatar
          Adam Tonge

          I work at nine different locations and drive between pretty much all of them. I don’t need to have my GPS on, as I know where all the locations are, but I enjoy the map and how many minutes until I get to my destination.

          I also have to meet with clients and vendors, and I typically pick up my daughter from day care no matter where I am during the day.

          Getting lost in the drive is almost never the point. Getting to where I need to be as safely and quickly as possible is the point.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      I’m with you LS1 fan. I’ve been rather enjoying the zen-like simplicity of my 20 year old Lexus interior, with the old style equalizer knobs and all haha. Ironically enough my 20 year old 4Runner has a touch screen audio system, by way of a Double-DIN Pyle head unit the that PO installed. It’s terrible and unresponsive, but I’ve been too cheap/lazy to change it and the tunes coming out the speakers sound great. I’m planning on using the CD-changer input on the ES to wire in an auxiliary input, and keep the stock stereo to preserve said zen-environment.

  • avatar
    427Cobra

    I never quite understood all the carping over MFT… yes, I understand there were initial teething pains, but after a few updates it seemed much better. As an engineer, I have been quite impressed with MFT in my 2013 Ford Edge Limited. Yes, the response can be a bit laggy… and sometimes, voice command turns a deaf ear to me… but overall it works amazingly well. My Zune HD sync’s right up to it. The Nav system has found some VERY obscure POI’s. Mine has never bricked. What gets me is how everyone raves about UConnect. I have it in my ’16 Ram, & I’d just rate it as “meh”. It’s a little quicker than MFT (as it SHOULD BE), but I don’t see any major improvements or earth-shattering revelations. Voice command is no better either. Whatever. A friend of mine had a Jaguar XK convertible… now, THAT was a bad infotainment system!

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      what launched in 2010 was an ungodly mess. It was extremely laggy and crash prone. It’s not really hyperbole to state that it barely worked.

      2013 model year is when they released the massive update with Microsoft’s help. that update, while still flawed, was a huge improvement.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I never had an issue with vehicles that Sync standalone. So no MyTouch, just a plain Jane stereo that you could connect your phone to. I found it worked perfectly and supported both Zune and iPhone. Loved it.

    I remember my first Ford Edge Rental with MyTouch. I was so excited. Got a free upgrade for a murdered out AWD Edge in a beautiful black with lots of metal flake, every option box checked off.

    MyTouch was HORRIBLE. The system would completely crash, couldn’t even control HVAC. I would have to pull over, shut down, restart. The screen would go completely black at times, be dead for 3 or 5 minutes and then restart. It could never sync to my iPhone. Discovered I had ye’ old Zune buried in my briefcase and it spent days “syncing,” literally was able to start playing music through it on the drive back to Logan Airport to return.

    I had a few experiences on newer models after that were better, but it was always a bit wonky.

    I love the Ford Edge, but every time I’ve built one out online — that price — YIKES!

    For the same money (roughly) you could have gotten a GLK350 that was very nicely equipped. We had one of those as a rental in 2015 and at first we were meh, but it grew on us through the week. Between the two it is no contest.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      IME Sync standalone is a POS too.

      It didn’t do well at all with a USB stick full of music.

      Its indexing doesn’t recognize directories and just sorts every MP3 file on the entire stick alphabetically. You have to create M3U index files for any level of organization beyond that.

      After leaving a music stick playing for a week or two, Sync’s internal index fills up, whereupon it will play an error message at vehicle start up and you can no longer navigate playlists at all. Fixing that required manually going through the “reset USB” dialog in the menu which sat their unresponsive for 3-5 minutes.

      Simply navigating up and down through the playlist index – requiring nothing more than displaying 4 lines of track name at a time – was laggy and unresponsive. On starting the vehicle, it often would stick on a blank screen with no information as to the track currently playing. Fixing that required switching source away from media and then back.

      The only other feature that I’d like out of my infotainment other than music is making blue tooth calls via voice command and that simply didn’t work well either. For 60-120 seconds after getting in the car, any “call x” commands were met by “sync is downloading your phonebook” instead.

      In short, a complete POS that ford should have been ashamed to be selling in 2005 much less the present day.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        you must have a 2012MY vehicle; there was a bug in the software that year which led to the “index is full” error. updating the SYNC software should fix it.

        “Its indexing doesn’t recognize directories and just sorts every MP3 file on the entire stick alphabetically. You have to create M3U index files for any level of organization beyond that.”

        I’m not sure what kind of “organization” you want to do. SYNC indexes metadata, and sorts music files by Artist, Album, Track #, Title, and Playlist.

  • avatar
    dogn

    Seriously? If I’m Bill f’ing Ford and my experience with the infotainment system in one of my company cars is that craptastic, the next day I’m going to be in the development center doing my impression of Slim Pickens in Blazing Saddles, “What in the wide-wide-world of sports isa’ goin’ on here?!”

  • avatar
    anomaly149

    The Oakville Assembly comment is all you need to know about both MFT and Oakville. Real bedfellows those two.

    That being said, it’s easy to forget that MFT really was one of the first of its kind. On paper it blew every other system away. It just didn’t work, and it demonstrated that you need big touch buttons and shallow navigation trees for infotainment. Learning experiences.

  • avatar
    DevilsRotary86

    My question is when are they finally going to push the Sync3 V2.0 Update to 2016 models? Still waiting for Android Auto.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      I think (but I’m not 100% sure) that CarPlay and Android Auto support means you need an updated media hub module. The media hub is the little box which has the USB ports and SD card, and Apple’s/Google’s requirements for CarPlay/A.A. necessitated a change in the USB chipset in the hub. I think there’s supposed to be a kit released for this.

      • 0 avatar
        DevilsRotary86

        Good to know, thanks. I originally read that the updated media hub would be required for CarPlay but not Android Auto, but on that I am taking a “will see what’s required when actually released”. I am more wondering when I will see the Sync3 2.0 update come over the air for 2016 models. It seems to keep getting pushed back. The last I heard was somewhere around end of this year.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    The list is very lengthy, but MFT could be at the top of Big Al failures.

    This system was so bad and Ford was happy as a clam denying there was a problem and sticking their customers with a nearly unusable vehicle.

    Hopefully Ford loses this class action big time. Then maybe they will learn that customers should not be your beta testers.

  • avatar
    pickypilot

    Perhaps they should take a lesson from Tesla. Huge screen that’s easy to use, extremely intuitive and it eliminates all the other controls in the car except the glove box and the hazard buttons. We love ours. By comparison, we looked at buying a new Maybach and even the salesman couldn’t figure things out. The car had more switches, buttons and other controls than an antique theater organ. Tech is great but keep it understandable.

  • avatar
    vstudio

    I’ve read awful things about the SYNC system, but in my experience with two leased Ford Explorers (2013 and 2016 models), I have nothing but good things to say about the system. I found it reasonably responsive, intuitive to use, and surprisingly free of big issues. Voice recognition works fine, navigation is ok (not quite Google maps), phone features and climate controls – all is there and works. Compared to Audi, Chevy/Cadillac, or BMW, the SYNC just seems better thought through. Maybe I got lucky?

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