Ford EV Engineers ‘Always On’ for Customer Feedback
Pilot in-vehicle communication program can channel Ford EV customer impressions into fast-tracked OTA updates.
Engineers like to know what customers think about a vehicle. Now, drivers of the all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning and Mustang Mach-E can oblige via a new system that channels select customer comments to engineers.
F-150 Lightning fullsize pickup truck and Mustang Mach-E SUV owners in the U.S. can pass along opinions via a 45-second voice message after selecting “record feedback” through the settings-general menu on the infotainment touchscreen. “We want to hear the customer’s voice. Ford does customer clinics and events, but this is a different way to capture customer feedback,” Donna Dickson, chief engineer of the Ford Mustang Mach-E, said in an interview with SAE Media.
Once the vehicle has cellular or Wi-Fi connectivity, the voice message is uploaded to the cloud for evaluation by the automaker’s quality analytics team. Ford’s in-vehicle voice-feedback feature is an extension of the automaker’s Always On Team initiative that began after the 2021 Mach-E debut.
The Always On Team scours social media sites in search of customer suggestions, compliments and complaints. To resolve certain customer issues, engineers can program an over-the-air (OTA) software update. “Always On really changes the way that we approach how we engineer and how we think about solving problems,” said Dave Pericak, Director of EV Trucks.
Following the debut of the 2022 F-150 Lightning, customers were clamoring for a specific piece of vehicle information to be visible at all times. “Our customers wanted to see their vehicle’s exact state-of-charge percentage on all of the cluster screens, so we made some changes and that’s now being provided to Lightning owners through an OTA update,” said Pericak.
Other OTA updates for the Lightning, based on customer wants, have included nixing a temperature-control slider bar in favor of a knob that also handles audio volume, and relocating the camera-view activation button. Before the OTA update, a driver needed to dig through screen menus to find the camera button; with the OTA update, there’s an always-visible camera-engagement button at the top of the display screen. “We can literally change our customers’ experience with the vehicle based on what customers are saying – without waiting for another model year to make the change,” Pericak said.
While customer critiques about in-vehicle items can prompt changes, feedback about in-vehicle features that resonate with customers also is valued. “Engineers want to know that all of the work that was done actually resulted in something that customers appreciate. Whether it’s a widget or a product, engineers want to produce the best-possible widget or product,” Pericak stressed.
Future products also can be influenced by customers, such as the special edition F-150 Lightning Platinum Black, announced in August 2023, that is Ford’s first-ever matte-wrapped production vehicle. “This is an example of an entire product derivative being defined based on what the customer has been saying and what we’ve been seeing customers do with their Lightning trucks on social media,” said Pericak.
Both the Lightning and the Mach-E are piloting the in-vehicle voice-feedback feature. The customer communication tool is factory-installed on 2023 Mach-E vehicles and is starting to roll out to owners of 2021-2022 Mustang Mach-E and 2022-2023 F-150 Lightnings. “We’ll get the kinks out of the in-vehicle voice feedback program and then all Ford vehicles will start using it,” Dickson confirmed.