America’s best-selling vehicle turns into a cyber truck with a familiar face

DETROIT – Ford Motor Co on Thursday unveiled the next generation of its F-150 pickup at an online event, showcasing a pickup truck that looks familiar but incorporates the automaker’s new strategy to take advantage of software and connectivity.

The new F-150 and Mach-E electric SUV to be launched soon will be the first Ford vehicles equipped with electronic systems that allow extensive over-the-air software updates. Rival Tesla Inc pioneered the use of smartphone-style updates to improve vehicles and generate revenue long after the sale. General Motors Co has released comparable technology in various vehicles.

Now, the F-150, part of the best-selling vehicle lineup in the United States with annual sales equal to Tesla’s current volume, will bring fully connected, upgradeable vehicle technology to the mainstream market. Ford will offer a hybrid version of the F-150. An electric model is expected in two years.

The new design of the F-150 is not surprising like the Tesla Cybertruck, with an exterior difficult to distinguish from the current model. When it launches this fall, the truck will target traditional buyers in the heart of the US, right down to the American flag stamped on the dashboard.

However, customers who choose to pay will be able to download software to allow hands-free driving on freeways when it becomes available next year, Ford said. Business customers will be offered software that can help with vehicle routing or tracking in a fleet.

Ford chief operating officer Jim Farley said in an interview that aftermarket software updates for customers may not be the biggest benefit the company gets from connecting F-series trucks to the cloud. Connected F-150s can tell Ford when there is a problem with the engine control software and allow for a quick fix.

“It is a game changer for us,” said Farley. The time to spot a warranty problem “ranges from weeks and months to days and hours.”

Ford will also be able to know what features customers use and how, and what equipment could be safely bypassed to reduce costs. “We don’t have to guess anymore,” he said.

(Report by Joe White; Leslie Adler’s Edition)