Large interior touchscreen of 2021 Ford F-150
Jimmy Dinsmore's picture

Confirmed: 2021 Ford F-150 Will Allow For Over-The-Air Updates

OTA Technology is coming to next-generation F-150 as well as other Ford vehicles. Should help lower costs of warranty work and improve reliability, according to Ford.
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We already knew that Ford was working on over-the-air updates for the Mustang Mach-E, as I reported on last week. That news alone was exciting. In that article, and according to information provided by Ford, OTA technology was coming to many other Ford vehicles.

During an interview this week, Hau Tha-Tang, Ford’s Chief Product Development and Purchasing Officer, revealed that the technology was coming to the 2021 F-150. That’s no surprise whatsoever and makes perfectly good sense.

OTA is a big part of the future of auto maintenance. Ford’s press release about OTA for the Mach-E was chock full of goodness and valuable information.

From the press release regarding OTA in the Mach-E, Ford released these perks of the technology:
• Many updates can be completed in under two minutes, with many virtually invisible to customers, enabled by an innovative cloud-connected platform that keeps current software running until a new version is ready to go – technology not available in some popular smartphones
• Secure software updates to offer enhancements throughout the SUV, from the SYNC® communications and entertainment system to upgrades that enhance quality, capability and convenience
• Ford ensures its all-new all-electric Mustang Mach-E stays up to date thanks to quick and easy over-the-air updates that can be done from anywhere – even your own home

Extrapolating that information to how it will work in the 2021 F-150 is pretty simple. One savvy viewer spotted on a spy photo a second antenna on the camouflaged 2021 F-150. That all makes sense now.

An engineer works on the Mustang Mach-E and it's OTA technology

How Does Over-the-Air Updating Work?
Minor updates like Sync infotainment will be done seamlessly. But this technology goes beyond just minor infotainment updates.

According to Ford, nearly all computer modules can be updated wirelessly, meaning Ford can provide performance enhancements and entirely new features that might not exist when customers first take delivery of their vehicles.

Some installations will be virtually invisible to customers, who can select a regular time – such as the middle of the night. It would be nice if these updates are simple and quick or could even be done while driving.

Many updates will be completed almost instantly after a customer starts their vehicle, while in-vehicle alerts will tell them what improvements have been installed. Many can be completed in under two minutes, and more complex updates that might require the vehicle to be parked for longer can be scheduled to take place when customers find it most convenient.

In a press release about OTA in the Mach E, John Vangelov, connected services manager for Ford said, “Our clever over-the-air updates also minimize downtime through incredibly fast activation and ensure your Mustang Mach-E is always getting better, even when you’re asleep.”

Can OTA technology help with minor warranty work?
The answer to this question is yes, in some instances. If a minor warranty issue exists, theoretically the repair could be made over the air. That would lower the burden on customers to schedule a repair and also help Ford lower costs for warranty work.

Ford has several warranty issues going on with the F-150 right now. Assuming they were related to codes or something CAN based, this could be corrected over the air. Of course the two big issues surrounding the current generation F-150 (transmission issues and the frozen door lock) would not be able to be fixed remotely and would still require a stop into a dealership.

OTA won’t eliminate hands-on repair, it may just save customers some time with minor issues and minor repairs. Until we physically see the 2021 F-150, we won’t know for sure what all this means. But it’s definitely a good thing.

Ford Sync 4 system

Will Sync 4 System Be Required For OTA Technology?
The answer to this question is maybe, maybe not, but we know the Mach-E will get the Sync 4 system (confirmed from Ford) and it seems highly likely that the 2021 F-150 will also receive the fourth iteration of Ford’s infotainment system.

That also likely means a much larger touchscreen. The spy shots of the interior I’ve seen showed a pretty big screen, which appears to be at least 12 inches. Rumors have hinted at the possibility of a 15-inch touchscreen with Sync 4.

“SYNC has always featured the best of Ford innovation to help our customers stay connected to and manage their busy lives as they move about the world,” said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford chief product development & purchasing officer. “With this new fourth-generation technology, we’ve evolved SYNC into an intelligent, voice-activated, in-vehicle digital assistant.”

I’m a sucker for new technology inside vehicles. So I hope the new F-150 gets Sync 4. Sync 3 is so much better than its predecessor, so I would think Sync 4 would be even better and be an important part of the OTA technology.

“No matter what size screen Ford customers choose, they will be getting an experience tailor-made for their vehicle,” said Gary Jablonski, chief engineer for SYNC technology, Ford Motor Company. “SYNC 4 puts these high-definition screens to work not only by offering even crisper displays, but also by making driving easier with new multi-tasking capabilities.”

I can hear some of the concerns now about new technologies and those are legitimate worries. But, me, I think the consumer wins when they have access to as much technology as possible, or at least as much as they want. Now, will some of the old-school F-150 buyers really want OTA technology? Probably not. I doubt they will be able to opt out or buy a trim that doesn’t include it. The future is here, embrace it.

Another thing that can be confirmed for the 2021 F-150 is a mobile generator. Read that story here.

Let me hear your thoughts on OTA updates? Are you excited or worried? Leave me your comments.

Jimmy Dinsmore has been an automotive journalist for more than a decade and been a writer since the high school. His Driver’s Side column features new car reviews and runs in several newspapers throughout the country. He is also co-author of the book “Mustang by Design” and “Ford Trucks: A Unique Look at the Technical History of America’s Most Popular Truck”. Also, Jimmy works in the social media marketing world for a Canadian automotive training aid manufacturing company. Follow Jimmy on Facebook, Twitter, at his special Ford F-150 coverage on Twitter and LinkedIn. You can read the most of Jimmy's stories by searching Torque News Ford for daily Ford vehicle report.


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