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Check out upgraded Ford SYNC 3

In 2007, Ford announced the SYNC partnership with Microsoft at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It was really the first time that an automaker jumped into bed with a software company to such a significant degree.

It received two awards in 2007 and 2008, from Popular Mechanics and Popular Science.

In 2008, The Auto Channel wrote: “SYNC is stunningly useful technology for anyone who spends more than five minutes a day driving.”

CNET said: “Ford’s SYNC system gives the 2008 Focus SES one of the most sophisticated media and communications interfaces available.”

Even the notoriously nasty The Truth About Cars said: “Ford and Microsoft have made the best-combined media/phone integrated system on the market.”

But by 2011, Ford SYNC was out of sync with its buyers.

“People were finding several problems with the system in that it would crash, freeze, black out,” said J.D. Power’s David Sargent, vice president of global vehicle research. “Beyond that, people complained that it was more complex to use than they would like.”

That year, Ford sank from fifth place in J.D. Power’s Initial Quality ranking all the way to 23rd, and it was a slide that continued for at least another year. Nobody had mechanical problems, and it wasn’t about panel gaps or stitching on the seats. It was almost solely at the feet of MyFord Touch, a $1,000 add-on to the SYNC system that brought touch-based functionality like you would see on an iPhone to the dashboard.

Industry observers agree that in every measurable area, automotive quality improved drastically through the 1990s and into the late 2000s. Problems are generally regarding things that are nice to have in a car but don’t affect how it drives down the road.

“There is an understandable desire to bring these technologies to market quickly,” Sargent said. “But automakers must be careful to walk before they run.”

Ford neither ran nor walked en route to what may be yet another industry game changer (think EcoBoost and aluminum). And with the introduction of backward-upgradable SYNC 3, it can alter the past and, Ford hopes, erase the memories of any less-than-enjoyable experiences.

SYNC 3, which will be on every 2016 Ford vehicle, offers all the industry-leading SYNC features plus its next generation of voice-activated technology. There’s a new easy-to- use design, new interface and new features. Ford describes it as responsive and innovative. Discover how SYNC 3 delivers next-level connectivity to your busy life.

Bill Jenkins, sales manager at Team Ford Lincoln in Las Vegas, isn’t looking backward. He’s moving forward with high enthusiasm for SYNC 3, and he says less is more now with the speed of voice commands — less being fewer words required for a desired function.

He said that at Team Ford Lincoln, all shoppers are treated to a demonstration during which the door is opened and the sales representative says: “Hungry.” With that one command, a list of restaurants appears on the touch screen.

The capacitive touch screen has impressive functionality such as the convenient swipe and available navigation pinch-to-zoom functionality similar to what is found on your smartphone. SYNC 3 reacts quickly to your commands. From a light tap on the capacitive touch screen to simple voice commands, SYNC 3 delivers noticeable high-speed performance. The operating system is by BlackBerry.

“It’s so much faster and easier to use,” Jenkins said. “Speed is the major factor. The best thing buyers like is the simplified screen and the voice modes. It takes less to do more.”

And Jenkins said SYNC 3 upgrades by Wi-Fi and has more app integration with smartphones.

“We take trades all the time like BMW and Audi, and they don’t have this range of voice commands,” Jenkins said. “You can’t beat Ford SYNC.”

Self-driving vehicles

The automotive industry has been racing full throttle toward autonomous or semi-autonomous cars with an “If we build it, they will come” mentality. The trouble is that there is a growing mountain of evidence that says we won’t come, especially if we have to pay for it.

The University of Michigan released a study titled “A Survey of Public Opinion About Autonomous and Self-Driving Vehicles” this year. It shows that a majority of respondents (about 66 percent) were familiar with autonomous and semi-autonomous cars and that more than 87 percent of respondents had either a positive (56.8 percent) or neutral (29.4 percent) opinion regarding their emergence.

But despite widespread understanding of at least the basics of the technology, and a generally positive opinion regarding self-driving cars, when researchers asked “What would you be willing to pay for it?” 56.5 percent of respondents said “zero dollars.” Just 25 percent of respondents suggested that such technology would be worth $2,000, which is about $500 less than the step between a 2015 Honda Accord Sport and a 2015 Honda Accord EX, which includes a sunroof and a better audio system.

That was the crux of Mike Sullivan’s talk at the Connected Car Expo: All this technology is terrific, but who is going to buy it, and how are we going to sell it?

“Luxury buyers clearly expect it,” Sullivan said, “but it’s rarely a differentiator. You introduce an expensive technology piece, and as a package, it’s a lot. If you itemize it, it’s worse. When it goes down to ‘Can I get leather and a sunroof or that?’ it gets real simple.”

If the past is any indication, it’s not going to be long before we’re buying this technology whether we want it or not.

Take a look at 2006: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released a study that said the risk of fatalities from roll-over accidents could be reduced by 80 percent in SUVs if electronic stability control was a mandatory piece of equipment. It went on to suggest that the risk of fatalities in such accidents — regardless of the type of vehicle — would be reduced by 43 percent if electronic stability control were standard.

At the time the IIHS published its study, electronic stability control could add anywhere between $800 and $2,500 to the bottom line as an option. In an article in the Boston Globe, Royal Ford wrote: “Daniel Jarvis, a Ford Motor Co. spokesman, said consumers have been reluctant to pay separately for stability control. ‘The vast majority of buyers would rather spend money on an upgraded audio system than safety equipment,’ he said.”

By March 2007, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued its final rule on FMVSS 126, which required all passenger cars, multipurpose passenger vehicles, trucks and buses with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less to be equipped with an electronic stability control system.

Now take a look at the research that’s guiding policy on autonomous vehicles today.

The Rand Corp.’s “Autonomous Vehicle Technology: A Guide for Policymakers” is the roadmap for the people who will make any and all of this technology mandatory. According to the guide: “The IIHS estimated that if all cars had forward collision avoidance and lane departure warning, side view assist and adaptive headlights, nearly a third of all crashes and fatalities could be prevented.”

From there, we’re just getting started. Rand calls features like forward collision avoidance and lane departure warning features “Level 0” and “Level 1” automation. By utilizing “Level 3” and “Level 4” automation — essentially ceding complete control to the car — Rand expects a significant decrease in alcohol-related fatalities: “Eliminating up to a third of traffic deaths through vehicle automation just by limiting alcohol-impaired drivers would represent a dramatic improvement in roadway safety.”

“Overall,” reads the publication, “we think the benefits of autonomous vehicle technology — including decreased crashes, increased mobility and increases in fuel economy — outweigh the likely disadvantages and costs.”

The result of us not caring about this technology, not really liking what we already have and our unwillingness to pay for it means that eventually, we will get it whether we like it or not.

— Senior writer John Kelly contributed to this article. Contact him at jkelly@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0206.

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