Problems with the Ford Explorer, Fiesta and Focus propelled Ford to next to last among 28 car brands ranked in the Consumer Reports 2012 Annual Auto Reliability Survey.
Consumer Reports characterized Ford's woes as "a perfect storm of reliability problems." It was a stinging remark, especially given the fact that Hurricane Sandy, a monster storm, was bearing down on the Eastern U.S. as the study was released.
"Ford's bumpy road can be seen in the numbers," said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports, in a statement. "Sixty percent of Ford-branded models and half of Lincolns were below average in predicted reliability, and none placed above average."
The consumer watchdog noted "Several factors contributed to Ford's decline in Consumer Reports' reliability rankings." It also said, "Only two years ago, Ford was Detroit's poster child for reliability."
"A few new or redesigned models, including the Explorer, Fiesta and Focus, came out of the gate with more problems than normal," the report said. "Ford has also added the MyFord/MyLincoln Touch electronic infotainment system, which has been problematic so far, to many vehicles. In addition, three historically reliable models — the Ford Escape, Fusion and the Lincoln MKZ — are not included in the analysis; the three were redesigned for 2013 and CR doesn't yet have reliability data on them."
The reliability score is based on the three most recent model years of data, providing the model has not been redesigned for 2013.
"We listen closely and value feedback on our vehicles — whether it's from customers or third parties, such as Consumer Reports," wrote Francesca Montini, a Ford spokeswoman, in response to an e-mailed query from Edmunds. "We remain absolutely committed to continuously improving and providing the highest-quality vehicles to our customers.
"MyFord Touch continues to enhance customer satisfaction, with owners recently reporting a 25 percentage point increase in satisfaction based on the software upgrade issued in March.
"Also, 71 percent of owners with the upgrade say they would recommend MyFord Touch to their friends. The all-new Fusion and Escape models — two important vehicles that traditionally play a significant role in the overall final ranking — are not part of the sample this year due to their launch timing."
Edmunds' data offers a different spin on consumers' reactions to Ford.
"Despite Consumer Reports' consistent criticisms of Ford's infotainment systems, including today's negative report, consumers have not been deterred in their interest in Ford vehicles," said Michelle Krebs, Edmunds.com senior analyst.
Krebs said that shopping consideration, an indicator for marketing effectiveness and consumer interest — but not necessarily purchase intent — for Ford vehicles, including Ford and Lincoln brands, came in number two behind Toyota products, according to Edmunds.com data. Consideration for Ford models has risen steadily since March. The Ford brand was number one in shopping consideration on Edmunds.com in September.
In September, Ford brand also was number one in purchase intent — a stronger indicator of consumers leaning toward a purchase of the brand, Krebs noted.
Toyota is "setting the pace in reliability," Consumer Reports said. Scion, Toyota and Lexus swept the top spots in the reliability study, with
the 2013 Toyota Prius C earning Consumer Reports' top score overall.
Cadillac is the top U.S. brand, having moved up 14 spots this year. The 2013 Cadillac CTS coupe was the most reliable domestic car.
"Chrysler brands had a few setbacks," the reliability report said. "The Dodge Charger, for example, returns with well-below-average reliability."
Audi had its best showing ever, moving up 18 spots to eighth place, "making it easily the most reliable European make and the top non-Japanese brand," the report said.
The complete report can be found at ConsumerReports.org starting today.