We’ve covered in-vehicle subscription services for automakers pretty extensively recently. It all started when publisher Tim Esterdahl got upset over Toyota not having remote start as a standard service in his 2022 Toyota Tundra. Rather, it is part of Toyota’s subscription services.
That’s pretty common for most automakers that offer a number of pay-to-play services — including remote start. Well, except for Ford Motor Company, which makes remote start and remote unlocking free through its FordPass app.
“We are the only automaker to offer as complimentary key services such as SYNC 911 Assist – which can automatically call 911 if you’re in a crash where air bags deploy and cannot call yourself – and FordPass features such as remote starting and unlocking of vehicles,” said Wes Sherwood, Ford Communications. “The core FordPass and SYNC features (i.e., 911 Assist) are complimentary with no subscriptions.”
“Our focus for connected vehicle subscription services is to create new, distinctive experiences for our customers,” Sherwood said.
A quick and dirty and answer: Anything that is currently offered as a trial basis.
“Trials become subscriptions. However, the point is we offer much longer Alexa trials than others, which generally have trials for 1-6 months,” Sherwood said.
These free trial services include many artificial intelligence (AI) features through Ford’s partnership with Alexa. Under this umbrella, these services are called “Ford Power-Up” and include such things as asking Alexa to control smart home devices, place calls, locate parking and more.
Key to the new Alexa Built-In offering is that you can now use the “wake word” in vehicles to activate it like home devices where before you had to use a separate app for control.
Customers can interact with their vehicles naturally and say things like, “Alexa, find the closest gas station” or “Alexa, play my road trip playlist” or “Alexa, call Mom.”
“And customers will be able to access the features both inside and outside their vehicle, as it works with the FordPass skill for Alexa – which customers can continue to use to control vehicle functions such as start/stop engine, lock and unlock doors, check vehicle range or tire pressure all from the comfort of their home,” Sherwood said.
Alexa will initially be delivered through Ford Power-Up software updates for Bronco, Edge, F-150, Mustang Mach-E and Super Duty customers with SYNC 4 Technology in the U.S. and Canada, with other regions to follow.
“Democratizing technology and putting it within reach of millions of customers has been a part of Ford’s DNA dating back to the Model T, and our new collaboration is a continuation of that legacy,” says Ned Curic, vice president, Alexa Automotive. “We can’t wait for Ford customers to experience the best of what Alexa and voice AI can do while on the road – including new features and capabilities that will be delivered seamlessly through future over-the-air software updates. We love the vote of confidence from Ford to deepen our work together and continue making the driving experience more connected, entertaining, and productive.”
Over-the-air updates (OTA) are the future of today’s connected vehicles, not just for Ford. More and more vehicles get in-vehicle enhancements through over-the-air updates that can be something simple such as a software update or something more such as vehicle diagnostics.
The Ford Power-up program is an OTA service that will become part of a subscription service in future Ford vehicles.
“Ford Power-Up over-the-air software updates are a key part of transforming ownership experiences,” Sherwood said. “As we identify customer preferences and vehicle issues through connected vehicle data, our engineers can then translate these insights into quality and capability improvements delivered through Ford Power-Up enhancements. And these will happen regularly over the course of owning vehicles with seamless software updates that enhance features, quality, experiences, capability and convenience.”
Sherwood said to expect announcements in the future about specific features as they become available. Speculative features that could be pay-to-play Ford Power-Up enhancements could be added range for EVs like the F-150 Lightning or Mustang Mach-E or even added payload for the F-150, as well as things like enhanced in-depth navigation for off roading in a Ford Bronco.
These subscription services are big business for automakers – to the tune of billions. Sherwood confirmed it with me when he said, “we see connected vehicle services as a huge opportunity, which is why we are transforming Ford into a software-led company and, for customers, ‘always-on’ ownerships experiences where before our relationships were periodic (sales and some service). In fact, we see this market growing to $20 billion by 2030.”
And pay close to mind to that phrase software-led company. We’ve heard GM’s Mary Barra say essentially the same thing. Connected vehicles are the future, and these personalized, subscription-based services will be common. It’s so much more than just remote starting your vehicle. The sky is the limit.