Ford Partnering With Microsoft to Deliver Over-the-Air Updates to Connected Vehicles

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When most drivers think of maintaining their cars, they probably focus on mechanical repairs (four out of five of which are related to durability). But Ford Motor Co. announced last week that it will partner with Microsoft Corp. to provide wireless software updates in a new generation of Ford and Lincoln vehicles.

“It’s us recognizing that, more and more, we are a software and technology company,” Don Butler, director of connected vehicles for Ford, told the Financial Times for a March 17 article. “Not only are we compared with consumer technology companies — consumers are comparing us to the kinds of experiences they’re having with their smartphones.”

The automaker said that the resulting cloud-based network would be used to update programming for everything from screen graphics to voice-recognition software. Ford previously partnered with Microsoft on an ultimately unpopular entertainment system, but believes this new effort will place the company more favorably, as car manufacturers are trying to find wireless ways to reduce how often cars must actually be brought into the repair shop.

The model in the market thus far has been Tesla Motors Inc., which has used an embedded wireless connection in its electric Model S to make updates — even some relating to recalls and others designed to improve performance and handling.

The Wall Street Journal reported that General Motors Co., the country’s largest automaker and one of Ford’s most direct rivals, has also announced that it will upgrade its technology offerings by turning its vehicles into mobile Wi-Fi hotspots. More than 30 General Motors cars with built-in broadband are expected to be released, paving the way for new safety and navigation features.

According to Ford’s announcement, it will not be offering embedded connectivity, and updates will only take place when the car is connected via another Wi-Fi hotspot (such as one in the home). The updates will therefore take the place of those that used to be done at the dealer or via USB drives.

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