QOTD: Do You Care for Over-the-air?

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
qotd do you care for over the air

Connectivity is one of those special buzzwords used across most industries, whether it be for a virtual meeting app, a washing machine, or a car. All companies seem to think we need more of it. Today we want to know — are you a fan of cars that come equipped with over-the-air update connectivity?

It seems a lot of people are in favor of ever-increasing connectivity, and require it even in the most mundane of appliances. I realized this while shopping for a water heater about three years ago. Reading the reviews, I expected most details to be about the quality of the water heater and if it was an efficient user of electrons. Instead, several users marked off a star or two because it didn’t feature Wi-fi connectivity. I’d never considered before how a water heater might need such connectivity, so I bought the model without it.

Since then I’ve been utterly devastated on multiple occasions when I couldn’t check the status of my water heater from bed, or at work. Or not…

This question was prompted by news reported yesterday about the new Ford Mustang Mach-E and its over-the-air updates. Manufacturers claim the advantages of such connectivity are great: Updates and improvements can be made to your car without your intervention (or knowledge). Patches in the software can fix problems before you encounter them, saving you stress and anxiety about the weak points of your car. And additional features of later software versions can be added to your older vehicle, bringing it up to par with the latest new product at dealer lots. It’s a win-win!

The downside here is the potential to charge you up front for tech which never arrives (ahem, Tesla), or to remove software the initial customer paid for when the car is resold to an unsuspecting second party (again, Tesla). A third concern is arising presently in the case of Volkswagen and the not-ready-will-ship ID.3. Because updates are downloadable and limitless, manufacturers will launch their product as an unfinished beta test, asking consumers to pony up full asking price for a car with incomplete software and features.

This consumers-as-testers methodology has occurred in the video game industry already, usually called “early access.” In many examples (which have escalated in frequency over the past five years or so), a developer put their game out in early access before it was finished. The promise is always that the final game will be completed soon, and released at no additional charge to the early access buyers. Sometimes the game is improved, finalized, and released. But other times it becomes abandonware, after the newly funded developer makes a nice return on their investment and moves on.

I can see this happening more and more in cars equipped with over-the-air in the future. When updates are unlimited and relatively low-cost, there’s less incentive to get the product right before consumers go and buy it. Just fix it later, no big deal.

What do you think about over-the-air connectivity? Is it a great way for product to be continually supported and improved by manufacturers? Or is it mostly a way to rush product to market and exercise greater control over access to features?

[Image: VW]

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2 of 28 comments
  • Bullnuke Bullnuke on May 13, 2020

    My personal preference is to consider that I have purchased a vehicle from a manufacturer through a dealer and it is mine. This preference hasn't changed since my first new vehicle purchase in '72 (a VW Type 2). I make the assumption (sometimes faulty but not very) that the vehicle is what it was advertised to be at time of sale and needed nothing extra from the manufacturer (or, shudder, the dealer) for it to operate successfully during my ownership. If the manufacturer wants my input concerning my ownership (likes, dislikes, recommendations) they can send me a form to fill out - they do not need to "communicate" with my vehicle behind the scene in any way. If there is a serious need to upgrade/update my vehicle for some reason, I can be reached by mail/email to allow me to decide on my own the path to take - this worked for all my many vehicles purchased since that '72 Type 2. I have attempted to electronically "harden" my F350 with everything short of a Faraday cage to keep the manufacturer dumb about my vehicle - someday I'll figure out how FordConnect sees my vehicle and remove that comm link also. It's my vehicle, purchased by me and for me and really none of the manufacturers business after the sale. Yeah, I'm the guy that tells the dealers at delivery to remove the license plate frames with the dealership logo and the dealership stickers when they refuse to pay me my $150 monthly fee for free advertising on MY new vehicle.

  • TMA1 TMA1 on May 13, 2020

    Just think, as emission requirements get tighter, your car will no longer need to be grandfathered in. The manufacturer can neuter your car from a distance to get it into compliance. Suddenly, flooring the gas pedal only gets you 80% of the throttle it used to. Less fuel going into the cylinders. And in case you didn't get a car with tattletale software, companies like Ford can now make sure that the insurance companies can better keep tabs on you doing 37 in a 35. But it's all for your own good, that's for sure!

  • Arthur Dailey When I grew tired of the T-Bird trying to kill me by refusing to start at the most inconvenient times/places, I replaced it with a '79 fullsized Dodge (Sportsman) van. Similar to this but with a different grille and rectangular headlights. The 4 'captains' chairs in my van were pretty much identical to the ones in this van. Mine certainly was not as nicely finished inside. And it was a handful to drive in snow/ice. One thing that strikes me about this van is that although a conversion it does not seem to have the requisite dark tint on the windows.
  • Jeff S I am not a fan of Tesla and they were niche vehicles but it seems that they have become more common. I doubt if I get an EV that it would be a Tesla. The electrical grid will have to be expanded because people over the long run are not going to accept the excuse of the grid can't handle people charging their EVs.
  • AMcA The '70 Continentals and Town Cars may have been cousins to the standard body Fords and Mercurys, they didn't have to be disguised, because they had unique, unbelievably huge bodies of their own. Looking at the new 1970 interior, I'd say it was also a cost savings in sewing the seat. Button tufted panels like the 1969 interior had require a lot of sewing and tufting work. The 1970 interior is mostly surface sewing on a single sheet of upholstery instead of laboriously assembled smaller pieces. FINALLY: do I remember correctly that the shag carpet shown under these cars was a Photoshop? They didn't really go so peak '70s as to photograph cars on shag carpets, did they?
  • Inside Looking Out Toyota makes mass market cars. Their statement means that EVs are not mass market yet. But then Tesla managed to make mass market car - Mode; 3. Where I live in CA there are more Tesla Model 3s on streets than Corollas.
  • Ltcmgm78 A lot of dirt must turn before there's an EV in every driveway. There must be a national infrastructure plan written by other than politicians chasing votes. There must be reliable batteries that hopefully aren't sourced from strategic rivals. There must be a way to charge a lot of EVs. Toyota is wisely holding their water. There is a danger in urging unplanned and hasty moves away from ICE vehicles. Do we want to listen to unending speeches every election cycle that we are closer than we have ever been to 100% electrification and that voting for certain folks will make it happen faster? Picture every car in your town suddenly becoming all electric and a third of them need a charge or the driver will be late for work. This will take a lot of time and money.