February 22, 2014 at 1:00 am

Ford seen ditching Microsoft for BlackBerry in future cars

Ford has built more than 10 million vehicles worldwide that are equipped with Sync, which allows customers to make phone calls, change radio stations and find nearby destinations without taking their hands off the wheel. (Ford)

Ford Motor Co. plans to ditch Microsoft Corp. for BlackBerry Ltd. for future upgrades to its Sync voice-activated system, according to a source with knowledge of the plans.

The Dearborn automaker for years has been plagued with software problems on Sync and its MyFord Touch infotainment system that have stained the company’s vehicle quality ratings. Ford could make the switch from Microsoft to BlackBerry and its QNX operating system this year or next. QNX, acquired by BlackBerry in 2010, has quickly begun replacing the Windows operating system as a popular choice for in-car automobile software.

Ford has built more than 10 million vehicles worldwide that are equipped with Sync, which allows customers to make phone calls, change radio stations and find nearby destinations without taking their hands off the wheel. The automaker could easily update the software of those vehicles already equipped with Sync to the BlackBerry software, said the person.

Ford, when asked about the future shift from Microsoft to BlackBerry, did not deny the plans.

“Ford and Microsoft are longtime partners, and we continue working together for the future,” Ford spokeswoman Susannah Wesley said in an emailed statement to The Detroit News. “Ford works with a variety of partners and suppliers to develop and continuously improve our in-car connectivity systems for customers. We do not discuss details of our work with others for competitive reasons. We are absolutely committed to leading and innovating the smart technologies and in-vehicle connectivity that our customers want and value.”

A BlackBerry representative referred an inquiry to a QNX representative, who did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

The QNX operating system is already available in BMW and Audi vehicles and QNX software is used in car radios. Other automakers are pairing up with other tech companies, like Google Inc. and Apple Inc.

Thilo Koslowski, a vice president at technology research firm Gartner Inc., said in an email that QNX has “proven itself in the marketplace.” QNX is less risky for automakers because of its flexibility, particularly with HTML5, a browser-based standard that allows developers to create applications that can run on any modern web-enabled device.

Ford has struggled in recent Consumer Reports auto reliability studies, with the influential magazine citing problems with the automaker’s voice-activated and infotainment systems. J.D. Power & Associates’ annual Initial Quality Study has also hammered Ford for its technology software issues.

Ford is not alone in that regard, though its problems are magnified because it sells a higher percentage of vehicles equipped with Sync systems than its competitors. Twenty-two percent of problems in last year’s J.D. Power study dealt with audio, entertainment and navigation systems.