Ford CEO Says Subscription-Based Features Aren’t the Brands Approach – for Now

There has been an alarming new trend in the automotive industry where certain basic vehicle elements are being changed to subscription-based. Ford says it won’t participate in subscription-based feature offerings for vehicles like the Mustang Mach-E electric vehicle, but how long will that last?

Ford doesn’t deny that subscription-based features exist

Ford CEO discusses subscription-based features do exist
A Ford pickup truck rolls off the assembly line | JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images

It seems this change is inevitable but has come to a crossroads for now. Motor1 reports that Ford CEO Jim Farley spoke to Bloomberg’s Emily Chang about the future of subscription-based features. Farley said he would “be surprised if we charged for heated seats. I don’t think that’s our approach.” While that doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen, it is a good sign for now.

Farley clarified that it would be possible to have some relevant features behind a paywall, making sense for specific markets. He commented that commercial and retail customers would benefit from this, specifically. “Maybe dynamic routing or coaching for the driver. I think there’ll be a subscription like we’re used to in content, but it will be customized based on the usefulness of the data.”

Farley said that Ford is working on focusing on changing everything the brand previously knew. In the last 118 years, Ford has done things a certain way that worked for the brand. Now with the move toward electrification, all of that has changed. Ford recently announced it was starting a program called Ford Pro Intelligence. According to Ford’s press release, this means commercial customers would have access to products, tools, services, and support that would make business easier.

The Ford Pro Intelligence program will likely offer such subscription-based features to businesses

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It sounds like Ford has plenty of plans with subscription-based features, but these won’t be relevant to the everyday driver. The Ford Pro Intelligence program will make life easier for businesses with large fleets of vehicles and multiple drivers in different locations. Things like the live range, charge time, vehicle tracking, and other cloud-based services would likely require a subscription.

However, remote start, heated seats, and other everyday items behind a paywall won’t happen right away. Farley has commented that he thinks there is a $20 billion market for such offerings by 2030, but it sounds like businesses will be the majority of that market to start.

Ford recently partnered with the Sonoma County Winegrowers to test out the Ford Pro Intelligence program. These partnerships will see Ford E-Transit vans and Ford F-150 Lightning electric trucks on vineyards with the ability to track more day-to-day operations. The goal of such projects is to reduce the operating costs of fleets by somewhere around 10%.

Toyota and BMW already tried this approach and it didnt work

But Ford would hardly be the first if it went that route. The internet slammed BMW when it announced plans to make Apple CarPlay a subscription-based feature. Mercedes-Benz said the new rear-wheel steering would be available for an annual rental. Toyota also announced plans to make remote-start on the keyfob a subscription-based feature, which had the internet in an uproar. Many automakers already have some of these features behind a paywall. Some have hidden elements in an app that requires a monthly subscription.

For now, the bar is pretty low here. People criticized Ford for not offering heated seats on the Ford F-150 Lightning unless you add a $9,500 package. The industry seems to be heading in that direction of subscription-based features regardless of the current public perception.

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