Ford Motor Co. and Google have announced a broad new partnership touching virtually every aspect of the Detroit automaker’s business, from how it builds new vehicles to the way customers shop, service and use them.
Among other things, the alliance will allow access to the Google map and navigation system as well as the use of smartphone-style over-the-air, or OTA, updates. That will enable Ford not only to update existing vehicle software but also offer motorists new safety and convenience features that might not have been available when they purchased their vehicle.
“As Ford continues the most profound transformation in our history with electrification, connectivity and self-driving, Google and Ford coming together establishes an innovation powerhouse truly able to deliver a superior experience for our customers and modernize our business,” said Jim Farley, president and CEO of Ford.
Today’s automobiles have become computers on wheels, using microprocessors to control their powertrains and digital safety systems while also adding an array of new infotainment features. Ford was one of the first manufacturers to offer touchscreen-based navigation and entertainment through its Sync system – the latest version showing up in new models such as the redesigned 2021 Ford F-150 pickup and the all-new Mustang Mach-E battery-electric vehicle.
EVs will make even more use of digital technology than traditional models, noted David McClelland, Ford vice president of strategy and partnerships during a media webinar Monday morning. The deal with Google, he said, “will allow us to more rapidly update the vehicle and experience will get better during the lifetime of the vehicle.”
Ford has already begun using OTA technology to add new features. Both the F-150 and Mach-E will be able to download the software for Ford’s hands-free Active Drive Assist when it is completed later this year. The automaker expects that approach to become commonplace once it starts using an automotive version of Google’s Android operating system as the vehicle’s digital “backbone” starting in 2023, added McClelland.
At that point, Ford’s Sync system will switch to the Google navigation system, including its mapping database. And Ford vehicle owners will gain access to a broad array of apps and features, like those available on smartphones and other devices using the Android operating system.
While officials wouldn’t go into detail, it’s expected that future Ford products will gain greater access to streaming content which could provide a new revenue source for the new partners. But while Google collects a significant amount of user data it then monetizes through smartphones and computers, McClelland stressed “Google (will) not have access to Ford data in the Google cloud.”
Ford will, however, and that will allow it customize the shopping experience, said Thomas Kurian, the CEO of Google Cloud. And the cloud will allow the automaker to closely monitor the way the vehicle is operating. It will be able to detect if there’s a mechanical problem, for example, or suggest to an owner when it is time to take the vehicle in for service.
“We will create very significant and creative and disruptive solutions for customers,” added McClelland.
The first vehicles equipped with Android-based technology will roll out during the 2023 model year, he said, noting that “This collaboration will go across millions of vehicles worldwide. The only place it won’t be available is in China,” though there was no explanation as to why that market will be excluded.
The collaboration will not be limited to the cabin of Ford vehicles, said Kurian. Google’s first major automotive partnership “promises to transform Ford” on the manufacturing side, as well. The two allies expect to make significant changes to the way Ford designs, engineers and assembles vehicles while improving the operation of both the parts supply chain as well as the automaker’s distribution network.