Ford is baking Alexa into more vehicle dashboards, part of its new Power-Up OTA updates that will see some drivers get three years of free cellular data with which to interact with Amazon’s assistant. The new feature builds on Ford’s existing Alexa support as part of its SYNC infotainment platform.
Indeed, Ford has been offering some sort of Alexa integration since 2017, as part of SYNC 3 and the SYNC AppLink smartphone app. The difference this time around is that Alexa will be running on the dashboard itself, and that the automaker is footing the bill for cellular data to cover almost all of the assistant’s functionality in the vehicle.
Launching this fall, native Alexa will be delivered via OTA updates for the new Bronco, Edge, F-150, Mustang Mach-E, and Super Duty vehicles in the US and Canada. Drivers won’t need their smartphone connect, and will be able to summon Alexa with the usual wake-word. There’ll be support for placing calls, loading music playlists, answering trivia questions, and locating points of interest such as gas stations and hotels.
All but the data required for music streaming itself will be covered free of charge, Ford says, for three years. That period will start from the point of Alexa functionality being installed in the car for existing vehicles, or from the start of the warranty of model year 2022 cars. Ford uses AT&T’s data network, so you’ll need to have coverage for that in order for Alexa to work, too.
As for how much the embedded Alexa functionality will cost after that three year period, Ford says there’s no concrete plan for that right now. It’ll confirm pricing closer to the conclusion of the free trials.
It’s all part of what Ford is now referring to Power-Up, a nod to energizing add-ons in video games. Basically, it’s Ford’s ability to deliver over-the-air updates to its cars and trucks, tapping the latest modular, upgradable architecture of models like the Mustang Mach-E EV, and the new F-150 pickup.
There’s the promise of both Power-Up updates for bug fixes and new features. On the F-150, for example, Ford could use the system to deliver a zone lighting fix after its connected trucks highlighted an early gremlin in the system. Later this year, F-150 and Mustang Mach-E models pre-equipped with the hardware for Ford BlueCruise, its hands-free highway driver assistance, will get a Power-Up update to deliver the software required for the system to work.
Not every update will be so significant, however. In the coming weeks, Ford says, there’ll be additions for the Mustang Mach-E that allow the FordPass app to set profile preferences – like radio presets – and save them to the cloud, for easier loading into cars. It’ll also log things like battery usage over journeys for those who want to analyze their power consumption later on.
Navigation enhancements, meanwhile, will allow SYNC 4 in both the F-150 and Mustang Mach-E to make better suggestions for destinations, while there’ll be boosted voice search. Apple CarPlay will be able to show turn-by-turn navigation in the vehicle’s instrument cluster, and Ford’s digital owners’ manuals will be upgraded too.
Some of the smaller updates will happen seamlessly in the background; SYNC 4 will continue working as normal, switching to the updated version at the very last moment. Larger updates, meanwhile, can be scheduled to happen when the vehicle isn’t needed, such as overnight.