November 14, 2023
Ford isn’t waiting to hear about customer complaints from their dealers or from mailed surveys. Instead, the company is building a direct hotline into some vehicle’s infotainment displays, letting owners inform Ford of any problems or complaints for immediate action.
Before this, Ford’s product teams were scouring social media for indications of problems that required action, explained Mach-E chief engineer Donna Dickson. “When the product launched, the program team were looking daily at social media,” she said. “They wanted to connect to the customer, to understand how things worked so we could jump on it as soon as we could.”
Now, while the Mach-E team still scans social media, they have installed a direct hotline for customers to voice complaints or offer suggestions. It is the Always On app, which lets customers record a 45-second voice message to Ford about their vehicle and send it to the company.
“In-vehicle feedback, that is something new,” said Dickson. “We put it on Mach-E for ’23 so you can voice record if something is going on and leave us a message.” Mach-E is the pilot for that, with the plan being to roll the feature out to all Ford vehicles eventually.
Ford is pushing out over-the-air updates to the vehicles every six months, and these updates include adding features from customer feedback, said Dickson. Some examples include repurposing the Mach-E’s rotary volume knob so that it toggles between volume and climate control temperature, another function for which drivers strongly prefer a physical rotary knob over the virtual on-screen slider employed originally.
Ford is now treating that rotary knob, the one the company first mocked up using a coffee K-cup during a meeting, as a multipurpose input device, similar in philosophy to BMW’s original iDrive multi-controller, she said.
Another HMI tweak was putting a virtual button to turn on the vehicle’s cameras on the top level of the display’s menu. Owners reported a buzz from the instrument cluster in early cars, so Ford engineers quickly addressed that.
There are improvements to the way the Mach-E drives too, with adjustments to the vehicle’s brake-hold feature for hills and to the Blue Cruise driver assistance system for smoother operation.
The team is also making hardware changes for model year 2024 to address customer complaints about driving range and charging speed.
The Mach-E has lagged rivals in charging speed noticeably, so Ford is replacing parts to improve that performance in response to customer feedback on the issue. “We’ve done a little bit different powertrain control with some new hardware and high-voltage components,” said Dickson. This hardware slashed charging time to go from a 10 percent state of charge to 80 percent from 44 minutes to 36 minutes, she said.
Additionally, Ford began offering a lithium-iron-phosphate-chemistry battery mid-year in 2023 that charges in 33 minutes. The company has software upgrades planned to wring out still more performance, Dickson added. “Below 33 minutes is what we’re targeting for ’24.”
Buyers will surely appreciate these improvements, but thanks to Always On, they’ll probably appreciate the feeling of being heard just as much.
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