“Alexa, start my Ford and crank the air conditioning” is the kind of verbal command owners of Ford vehicles will be able to seamlessly make from the comfort of their home in the future. The automaker is planning a wireless software update to make Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant a built-in feature for 700,000 Ford vehicles in the U.S. and Canada this year.
Included in the update is free Alexa connectivity for three years, is just one of a number of over-the-air updates Ford has planned to upgrade vehicles already on the road. But the voice assistant, and the addition of BlueCruise, Ford’s hands-free highway driver assist technology, are the biggies. Also coming soon to the Mach-E is an update that introduces Sketch for simple gaming and the ability to draw on the touchscreen and save your work. A future update will allow the work to be shared on social media.
Ford Power-Up Technology Makes OTAs Possible
Ford Power-Up software technology will make it possible to regularly enhance vehicles with a mixture of fixes and other quality upgrades sent wirelessly—while you sleep if you want—as well as new features and apps to improve the ownership experience.
The automaker will produce 33 million vehicles with Power-Up capability by 2028, Ford director of business operations for enterprise connectivity Alex Purdy says. It starts with the high-volume 2021 Ford F-150 and the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E electric crossover and will be incorporated into new vehicles that launch with the second-generation electrical architecture and embedded modem connectivity needed.
The first Power-Up software updates for the F-150 and Mach-E began March 18 and have been sent to about 100,000 customers, says Ford’s manager of software updates Aziz Makkiya. Engineers are preparing for a second major upgrade later this year with new features, including BlueCruise.
Updates Designed For All Ford Vehicles, Not Just High-End
Power-Up won’t be limited to higher-end models or just to retail customers—commercial vehicle buyers are deemed a priority knowing they are in their vehicles all day and would benefit from features that make their jobs easier.
Updates coming in the next few weeks will enhance navigation with more destination suggestions and better voice recognition for search, as well as turn-by-turn navigation using CarPlay displayed in the instrument cluster.
Ford and Amazon plan to work together on enhanced services over the next six years, creating personalized commercial vehicles services for business owners and fleet managers, ways to improve towing for the F-150, augment off-roading with the Bronco, and enhance the EV lifestyle for owners of the Mach-E, Purdy says.
Amazon is working with Ford on ways to help drivers, such as telling Alexa to find a gas station and to pay for the fuel. Alexa will ask which pump it is and then unlock that pump and pay for the fill-up.
This Time Alexa is Different
Yes, you can incorporate Alexa into some Ford vehicles now—Amazon worked with Ford to launch Alexa into vehicles for the first time in 2017 using a smartphone app—but the partners are now launching a fully imbedded Alexa that works simply and seamlessly with new vehicles that have imbedded modems. No buttons need to be pushed; just talk to connect the way you would with Alexa devices in a smart home.
“We created Alexa Auto because customers asked for it,” Amazon’s vice president of Alexa Automotive Ned Curic says. “They were trying to put Echo Dot devices into vehicles, and it did not work.”
A JD Power survey found 76 percent of customers who use voice assistant at home want to use the same system in their vehicle.
Updates Are Your New Oil Change
In the future, software updates will become more frequent, Purdy says. Being a software-led company is the new lens through which Ford is approaching everything, he says. “We believe data is the new oil.”
The connectivity team can update about 80 modules in a high-end vehicle now and is working to be able to modify the coding in virtually every module in the future. Privacy firewalls are baked into the software, Purdy says.
Tesla brought OTAs to public attention, making their cars cool and new with wireless surprises for owners and the ability to upgrade in areas such as increased range.
Fixed Without a Trip to the Dealership
The beauty of OTA updates is that they do not require a visit to the dealer, thus taking up a lane in the service bay. Most updates will happen without the owner being aware of them, requiring little or no action. Often drivers will only learn of the upgrade when they start their vehicle. For updates that require reboots, owners can schedule installation of the cloud-delivered update overnight. Some take as little as two minutes; others will take longer.
Commercial vehicle owners will be able to maximize their uptime and run their fleets more efficiently with the wealth of information at their fingertips and the ability to resolve issues quickly—ideally before it breaks down, saving time and annoyance, Purdy says. And fast fixes reduce Ford warranty costs.
Faster Fixes Possible
Real-time data sharing reveals how customers use their vehicles and that information is helping Ford double down on features that customers like, get rid of the ones they don’t, and quickly pinpoint issues to be resolved. Once they are diagnosed, Ford can work on a fix, test it on a smaller group, and then send it out wirelessly to all vehicles.
That was the case when there were complaints about a battery drain with early builds of the Mach-E. Once the issue was detected, software engineers were able to react quickly and save the company $20 million, Makkiya said. They were able to do an analysis, came up with a diagnosis, engineer a fix, test it on a small group and then deployed a software patch to all, saving the company $20 million. In June a fix is going out to address some Sync4 Android Auto connectivity issues in the F-150 and Mach-E.