(USA TODAY) - One heavily touted model has the worst quality of any single nameplate in the auto industry's most closely watched index for problems in the first 90 days of ownership, USA TODAY has learned.
It's the Ford C-Max, a five-passenger crossover that comes both as a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid, according to three independent sources who have access to the full list of models in J.D. Power and Associates' Initial Quality Study. The C-Max had 222 manufacturing flubs or design flaws per 100 vehicles in the survey, nearly twice the industry average of 113.
Ford sold 16,996 C-Max hybrids in the first five months of the year, Autodata reports. It debuted in the U.S. late last year as an alternative to vehicles like Toyota's Prius V wagon. At the time, Ford hyped it as the vehicle to "headline its transformed lineup."
As one of Ford's most advanced models, the Michigan-made C-Max came in dead last in a survey that is sensitive to consumer complaints about confusing or poorly functioning technology. C-Max not only comes with the advanced powerplant, but has the MyFord Touch infotainment system that has been key source of complaints about it being distracting or difficult to operate. The vehicle also has other tech touches like a tailgate that opens or closes when someone waves their foot underneath the rear bumper.
Ford said late last year that fuel economy was the top reason for buying a C-Max. But Consumer Reports wrote last December that it was unable to achieve the hybrid's EPA-gas mileage rating of 47 miles per gallon. The magazine said its gas mileage was 37 miles per gallon overall in 2,000 miles of testing.
J.D. Power ranks all auto brand on quality, but lists only the top models in 26 categories. The complete model list is kept secret from the public, shared only with automakers and others in the industry. When asked about the C-Max, J.D. Power spokeswoman Syvetril Perryman said she didn't have access to the complete list.
A Ford spokesman says the company is trying to pinpoint why the C-Max fared poorly. "We are still reviewing the data and cannot comment on specifics at this point." says spokesman Wes Sherwood.
He also says, "We remain absolutely committed to top quality for our customers with every new vehicle, including C-Max. We listen to all feedback and are still reviewing J.D. Power's results to continue improving quality."
Ford is, after all, the brand that once had "Quality is Job 1" as its advertising tag line. But as a brand, Ford performed poorly overall on J.D. Power's survey, released Wednesday, landing in 27th out of 33 brands on the list, about the same place as last year. Porsche was first and Toyota's Scion was dead last. (Ford's Lincoln brand was in the middle of the list.)
Lately, Ford has been dogged by a series of embarrassing recalls, including those involving some of its most important models and its much-advertised EcoBoost turbocharged engines, calling into question its quality reputation.
Getting the C-Max, which starts at $28,365 for the hybrid before delivery charges, out of the quality doghouse may not be easy.
J.D. Power says two-thirds of the reported problems in the Initial Quality Study are related to bad design, instead of factory goofs. A manufacturing mistake can usually be fixed, but design problems are much harder to quickly remedy.
But Ford has been trying to act on complaints. On Monday, Ford said it is going to put old-fashioned knobs on its MyFord Touch touch-screen infotainment system, as a way of making it easier to use.
A J.D. Power official says that overall, Ford is improving on quality. "MyFord Touch is getting better," says Dave Sargent, vice president of global automotive. With that and other changes, "I suspect Ford will start to improve."