When it arrives late this year, the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E electric SUV will be one of the first mass-produced vehicles on the market to offer over-the-air (OTA) firmware updates from the start.
The first mass-produced vehicle not from Tesla, that is.
If you’ve been driving Tesla models OTA updates are nothing new. From the first one successfully served to Model S cars in October 2012, to what’s now around a million cars cumulatively produced, many are quite different (hopefully better) cars today than they were delivered, thanks to incremental improvements and updates.
Ford Mustang Mach-E update potential
Ford expects to deliver its first updates within six months after the first Mustang Mach-E vehicles are with customers. Ford headlined a Tuesday press release on the Mach-E updates with “no more FOMO (fear of missing out),” and the tagline seems right on target. That potential for continued improvement has likely been one of the reasons Tesla vehicles have held their value so well; owners know that to some degree software updates will keep improving the vehicle.
While there haven’t been any serious issues with the update system itself in Teslas in all these years, that carmaker’s approach has been proven with serious safety improvements—like much-improved braking on the Tesla Model 3 that was rolled out wirelessly after Consumer Reports criticized its performance.
It’s not just major safety items. Tesla has kept its cars feeling fresh inside with updates—sometimes adding whimsical things like on-screen campfires and whoopie cushions and car-aoke.
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E, 2019 LA Auto Show
Ford assured it isn’t just talking about updates to the Sync infotainment system. The company says that nearly all parts of the Mach-E can receive updates, “so your experience never stops improving.” And it notes that, as with current smartphone software, the system keeps the current version running until the new version is installed and ready to go.
Ford expects that the first updates will be delivered to the Mach-E "within six months after the first Mustang Mach-E vehicles are with customers."
The company says that complex updates that would require longer could be scheduled at a convenient time. Customers will be able to set a normal time—like the middle of the night—for updates. Some will be completed almost instantly, while others will take about two minutes. After a driver starts the vehicle after an update, alerts will inform them of any affected systems.
Depending on the time and kind of update, the system might either use cellular connections or home wifi. Ford hasn’t yet detailed what kinds of data service the Mach-E might have—or hardware details of how exactly such updates are done.
Chief program engineer Ron Heiser told Green Car Reports last year that he oversaw teardowns of the Model S and Model X prior to being put in charge of the project that was to become Mach-E—so you can bet its layout considered such updates.
Ford engineer inside Mustang Mach-E
To get the Mustang Mach-E and its software to the launch point, Ford said in this week's release that engineers have continued to do this work from home during the coronavirus pandemic, through a work environment in which they enabled remote access to the vehicles modules.
So far the only electric car enabling this level of OTA updates is the Jaguar I-Pace. Over-the-air update capability was built into the Jaguar I-Pace, but Jaguar chose to launch the model without it enabled. The carmaker has since requested that owners bring their vehicle back to the dealership so that they can get a necessary in-person system upgrade that also helps boost range.
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E
Ford says the Mach-E is just the start, and that from 2020, most redesigned vehicles in the U.S. will be equipped with OTA capability. That would include the fully electric F-150, which is due to be built on the next-generation version of the full-size pickup.
Although it sounds like good news for those who buy the Mach-E, what remains yet to be seen is how often Ford will push out these updates, and whether eventually it might charge money for these updates. With a stay-at-home system that takes the dealer out of the loop, you can bet that’s an uneasy conversation.