Tesla pioneered over-the-air (OTA) software updates for cars, allowing it to fix problems and add new features while cars sat in owners’ driveways. Despite the utility of OTA updates, established automakers have been slow to follow Tesla’s lead. Now, Ford is finally diving in, with plans to add OTA update capability to most new vehicles in 2020.
Ford claims OTA updates will be “bumper to bumper,” and will work with “nearly all” vehicle computer modules, encompassing gasoline, hybrid, and electric cars. The first updates will occur six months after the first OTA-capable vehicles are launched, Ford said, without specifying what updates it has planned.
To minimize inconvenience, Ford said the current version will be kept running until an update is ready to use. Car owners will also be able to schedule update times, allowing updates to run at night or at other times when the car is parked, according to Ford. Owners will also be able to receive notifications of available updates on their smartphones, as well as opt into automatic updates, Ford said. The automaker claims most updates can be activated in under 2 minutes, but some may take longer.
Traditional automakers are loath to add any new features that don’t require customers to buy a new car, but Ford did use a post-purchase update before. The automaker added Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to its Sync 3 infotainment system using an OTA update, although customers were also mailed USB drives with the necessary software. Sync 3 has had OTA update capability since its launch in 2014, but that didn’t apply to the rest of the car.
As cars become more reliant on software, OTA updates may become more than a nice perk to keep customers happy. They may help automakers conduct recalls more quickly, as long as the issue is solely related to software and not hardware. Owners won’t have to bring their cars to dealerships to have problems fixed, and automakers can push software updates to all affected cars at once, ensuring the recall work actually gets done. Ford rival General Motors also plans to add OTA capability as part of a new electrical architecture rolling out with Cadillac luxury cars.
OTA updates will become available in 2020, but Ford isn’t offering a more specific timeline. Next year will also see the launch of Ford’s new Sync 4 infotainment system. Sync 4 will get wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as more computing power and new graphics designed to better fit Ford’s wide array of touchscreen sizes.