Ford has been taking some big hits in consumer surveys for the last several years due to problems with its various infotainment systems, notably the MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch technologies. And now those concerns could land it in court.
A federal class action has been filed in the U.S. District Court in Central California demanding "compensatory relief" on behalf of motorists who have been frustrated by the Ford infotainment systems—in particular, with the problems involving their touchscreen interface and generally software programming issues.
"The MyFord Touch problems in Ford vehicles are legion and now well-documented," said Adam Levitt, a director at Grant & Eisenhofer, a law firm that specializes in consumer class action lawsuits.
"Had consumers known about the numerous and widespread issues with the system in Ford's cars, they would not have purchased or leased these vehicles. We intend to see that they are properly compensated for defective systems, and will call on Ford take affirmative steps to see that customers' expectations are met," he said.
Indeed, Ford has taken some sharp criticism in recent years after initially being hailed as a high-tech pioneer. Five years ago, Ford was among the top mainstream manufacturers on the J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey. The IQS released last month found Ford sinking to well below industry average which, according to Power's automotive research chief, Dave Sargent, was almost entirely due to problems with the various Touch systems.
(More from The Detroit Bureau: Global sales surge could let GM topple Toyota)
The basic technology of the underlying Ford Sync infotainment platform has actually won raves over the last few years—and has led other makers to add similar systems. But Ford's biggest issue appears to have been its decision to migrate from conventional knobs, switches and buttons to screen-based controls.
The results of the IQS found that such an approach—by Ford and other makers—has created frustration by consumers because it can be much more difficult to handle simple tasks like changing a radio station, adjusting the climate control or programming a navigation system. Complicating matters, Ford's technology has been accused of being slow and sometimes freezing up entirely, requiring repeated reboots.
(Read more: Ford hiring more than 1,000 on F-Series demand)
Ford officials weren't available to discuss the new lawsuit—and traditionally decline to comment on legal actions, anyway. But the maker has strongly defended Sync and the various Touch systems, noting that industry data show that, if anything, many customers are purchasing Ford products specifically because of their enhanced electronic systems.
The challenge, several Ford officials told TheDetroitBureau.com, is that tech-oriented buyers want cutting-edge systems that may also prove difficult for less tech-savvy motorists.
(More from The Detroit Bureau: Lincoln doubling the number of MKZ hybrids)
The maker has taken several steps to try to reduce such concerns. It advised customers late last year that they could have their MyFord and MyLincoln Touch systems updated with new software—either through a downloadable thumb drive or by taking their vehicles back to dealer service shops—improving responsiveness.
And the maker recently announced that it will adopt more traditional hand controls on future models to operate key functions, such as basic audio and climate control duties.
(Read more: Ford F-250 becomes thieves' favorite target)
The maker this week announced it will use software to address another issue that has prompted several lawsuits: claims that its hybrid models aren't delivering the EPA-approved mileage ratings. About 77,000 Ford and Lincoln hybrid owners will be able to get the control systems updated for free at dealerships.
(More from The Detroit Bureau: Big Brother is watching—your license plate as you drive)
Ford officials declined to say how much that would improve the fuel economy of the typical vehicle but suggested it will reduce the "variability" inherent in hybrids that can cause them to deliver significantly lower mileage under certain road and driving conditions.