Ford has a surprise for owners of thousands of 2021 F-150 pickup trucks and Mustang Mach-E electric SUVs.
While they sleep, their vehicles can add a nifty new feature – hands-free driving on the highway. It’s an early example of how over-the-air, or OTA, software updates will change car ownership.
“I’ve been using it a lot lately. I love it, but it’s definitely a work in progress,” Free Press reader Godfrey Norman told me after a Ford dealer installed the software in his 2021 F-150 Lariat.
Automakers have been using OTAs to update certain vehicles for years, but the practice is about to become mainstream and includes installing popular new features – some probably free, some paid.
The ability to add features, improve performance or improve efficiency is a big part of many automakers’ plans to make ownership an ongoing relationship and profit center, not a transaction that ends with the car. ‘purchase.
“With over-the-air updates, automakers have the potential to continuously update their vehicles in an unprecedented way,” said Stephanie Brinley, automotive analyst at S&P Global Mobility.
$200 first year fee waived
More than 38,000 Ford customers have activated the new feature, which enables hands-free driving on approximately 130,000 miles of limited-access highways in North America.
Ford and Lincoln owners have logged 4.5 million hands-free driving miles since OTAs began in the first quarter of 2022. Ford said about 50,000 vehicles are eligible for updates.
A recent email from Ford told owners: “Good news: Ford is excited to offer BlueCruise hands-free highway driving to customers who purchased a 2021 F-150 or Mustang Mach-E model before the software was released. available.”
The email also said Ford would waive its annual fee this year because the company was unable to deliver BlueCruise in 2021 as originally promised. Ford charges $600 for a three-year subscription that includes software and map updates, so owners will save $200.
“Your vehicle may have started receiving the first of multiple BlueCruise hands-free driver assistance software updates over the air if it is still configured to receive them,” the email continues. While downloads can occur overnight when the vehicle is connected to home Wi-Fi, some BlueCruise updates take place in the background while customers are driving, so full activation can take several weeks. depending on the owners’ driving habits.
“To receive software updates as quickly as possible, we recommend that customers connect their vehicles to Wi-Fi,” Ford said. “They’ll either have to set a schedule or use the Update Now feature.”
The software was originally supposed to be installed entirely via an over-the-air update last July, in the same way that smartphones and laptops regularly receive software updates and new features.
Nolan leased his 2021 F-150 last May. After getting the email from Ford, he went to a dealership to install the software.
His dealer does the service for three or four owners a week. Owners must make an appointment for service. Ford says it should take two to eight hours, but Nolan’s pickup sat in the shop for two days.
The start of something big
“I suspect the process will improve as speed and connectivity improve, but it can still be clunky right now and sometimes fails, forcing consumers to go to the dealership for the update, which which negates some of the advantage,” said analyst Jeff Schuster of LMC Automobile. “When it works it’s great, but when it doesn’t it adds another layer of frustration.”
Obtaining the update via OTA requires the FordPass smartphone app and vehicle modem to be active. The update comes in several stages. As is often the case with laptops and phones, the Ford app can be set to automatically accept them or notify the owner when they are available.
OTAs could also replace visits to dealerships for some recalls, Brinley said.
Fewer in-person service visits should reduce owner irritation. It can also save automakers money, because pushing a software update will cost them far less than compensating dealerships for physical service during the recall on thousands or even millions of vehicles.