Readers revolt over Ford

A recent column on Ford's vehicle reliability provokes a rebellion.

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By Alex Taylor III, senior editor

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NEW YORK (Fortune) -- A recent column of mine, "All is not rosy for Ford reliability," drew an unusually large and vigorous number of comments from readers -- 100% of them negative.

Comments ranged from the terse but polite, "You, sir, need to find a new line of work," to the terse and less polite, "I found your article on Ford quality borderline offensive to journalism." All were blistering. A typical comment: "I won't put much credit in anything that you or your publisher may write in the future."

It was tough stuff, and while I try not to take such criticism personally, I do take it seriously. My value as a journalist is only as good as my credibility; if nobody believes what I write, then I might as well be shouting into a wind storm.

So I went back to reread my column and to find more about the research methods used by Consumer Reports in ranking car manufacturers by predicted reliability for the 2010 model year.

The idea for my original column sprung from a CR news release that praised Ford (F, Fortune 500) because several of its newer models beat comparable Japanese models in reliability, as reported by CR readers. CR also praised Ford as the only Detroit automaker with world-class reliability and added that 90% of its cars had average or better than average reliability. That compared with 100% for Honda (HMC) and 98% for Toyota (TM).

That all sounded very impressive until I turned a page and saw a chart ranking all the brands sold in America by predicted 2010 reliability. There was Ford, stuck in the middle of the pack, behind the usual Asian suspects.

As I should have explained more fully in the column, the 2010 rankings averaged reports from CR readers on all the cars in a given company's lineup. Ford's results were pulled down by the poor performance of the F-250 pickup truck and the troubled all-wheel-drive systems on Ford passenger cars.

"While Ford has many world-class products, some of their older products bring down the average," says Jake Fisher, senior automotive engineer at CR's test facility in northeastern Connecticut.

But while my column was technically accurate, it didn't pass the smell test with readers who thought I showed bias against American cars. "Okay Mr. Doom and Gloom," wrote one. "I suggest you attempt to write something positive about the U.S. auto industry."

I have in the past, most notably a cover story on Ford CEO Alan Mulally called "Fixing Ford." In fairness, though, there is more to write about these days, especially about Ford, which reported a third-quarter profit the other day, its first in a long time.

I promise to pay more attention to the appearance that my columns create as well as the content. Journalists shouldn't be cheerleaders, but they shouldn't be so consistently negative that they lose their audience, either. To top of page

Company Price Change % Change
Ford Motor Co 8.29 0.05 0.61%
Advanced Micro Devic... 54.59 0.70 1.30%
Cisco Systems Inc 47.49 -2.44 -4.89%
General Electric Co 13.00 -0.16 -1.22%
Kraft Heinz Co 27.84 -2.20 -7.32%
Data as of 2:44pm ET
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 32,627.97 -234.33 -0.71%
Nasdaq 13,215.24 99.07 0.76%
S&P 500 3,913.10 -2.36 -0.06%
Treasuries 1.73 0.00 0.12%
Data as of 6:29am ET
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