Ford Introduces 'Hands-Free' BlueCruise System for F-150, Mach-E

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

On Wednesday, Ford Motor Co. announced its upcoming hands-free driver-assist system intended to rival Tesla’s Autopilot or General Motors SuperCruise. The service, which the manufacturer has renamed BlueCruise, will be available on top trimmed “Mustang” Mach-E crossovers and F-150 pickup trucks via over-the-air-updates in the third quarter of 2021.

It will not be free, however.

Even though Ford has promised highly competitive pricing, customers will need to have purchased vehicles equipped with the necessary hardware (including driver monitoring cameras) before they’ll be eligible to spend the additional $600 Ford is asking for the privilege of using BlueCruise for three years. While more affordable than the competition, it still seems a lot to spend on a vehicle so you can pretend it’s self-driving – especially since the company failed to make it sound like it would be any more advanced than what’s being offered on Tesla and Cadillac vehicles that similarly cannot drive themselves.

BlueCruise seems to tap into all the latest automotive trends we’ve taken umbrage withsubscription services, locking features behind over-the-air (OTA) paywalls, invasive driver monitoring, and potentially delivering a tech product that’s less advanced than it appears at first blush. But that’s not really all that different from what’s being offered by Ford’s rivals.

GM’s SuperCruise has limitations on where it can be used, comes with an interior camera, and requires that a driver remain constantly attentive or it will deactivate itself. Tesla’s Autopilot is more flexible, however, it’s been modified to keep operators more invested while running and will likewise shut down when it thinks you’ve checked out. Meanwhile, the EV manufacturer’s formerly lauded Full Self-Driving Capability has effectively evolved into a $10,000 version of Autopilot Plus with a promise from CEO Elon Musk that it might someday result in a vehicle that’s capable of SAE Level 5 autonomy. With the addition of several years worth of testing data on the fallibility of advanced driving aids, we’ve grown skeptical of the general premise.

But Ford said BlueCruise would be easier to use, claiming it would be a legitimate hands-free experience that would have features added as the technology matures. To prove this, it unleashed a batch of vehicles equipped with the system for a 110,000 mile (combined) road trip. The company also made a direct comparison between the new system and the Model T in an effort to make it seem more relevant.

The system is presently capable of navigating over 100,000 miles of divided highway (based on Ford’s GPS mapping network) in hands-free mode and that’s what customers will get at launch. But the automaker said that would increase over time, noting that future updates would gradually add new features to BlueCruise.

“There are highway intricacies and driving conditions that you simply cannot replicate in a lab,” said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s chief product platform and operations officer. “Sending these vehicles out for real-world driving experience is just one of many ways we ensured that BlueCruise technology offers confidence and convenience for drivers all across the continent.”

Additional details were given back in October, when the system was still called Active Drive Assist, that frankly paint a more comprehensive picture of what Ford is going for and even how it wants to market BlueCruise. By comparison, this week’s release offered very little information about what the system is actually capable of. Though we did learn that it wouldn’t launch with automatic lane changing or predictive speed adjustments designed to help the vehicle slow for turns or obstacles. Ford said they would be available later, however.

From Ford:

Henry Ford helped millions of people lay hands on their first automobiles beginning more than 117 years ago. Today, his company is helping many more people take their hands off steering wheels by applying the same approach to democratizing technology to Ford’s state-of-the-art Active Drive Assist hands-free driver assist innovation.

Ford developed Active Drive Assist based on advanced computing of camera and radar sensing technologies to provide real-time hands-free driving opportunities. The technology also enables expanded hands-free driving zones in the future based on system and customer patterns.

“As breakthroughs in new technology allow us to help reduce the stress of long highway drives, it’s important to make sure these capabilities can be enjoyed by the largest spread of people possible,” Hau Thai-Tang explained last fall. “Active Drive Assist can help improve the driving experience while ensuring people remain aware and fully in control, all for a price unmatched by our competitors – a commitment to affordable innovations that has driven us since Henry Ford put the world on wheels.”

Ford’s pricing claims appear to be accurate for the most part, though we’re not ready to call BlueCruise the deal of the century. For starters, customers appear to be paying $600 to spend 3 years beta testing the system and helping Ford accumulate data. While this is hardly a new practice for the automotive industry, there’s always something bothersome about paying for unfinished features. But let’s say you’re still interested and will be one of the 100,000 people Ford thinks will subscribe to the service within its first year. How can you make absolutely sure your vehicle is eligible?

Customers will need to have purchased an F-150 equipped with the Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 package – which is standard on the Limited trim and can be added for $995 on others. From there, they can purchase BlueCruise and have it installed via the aforementioned OTA update and 3-year subscription. Alternatively, those who purchased a Mach-E CA Route 1, Premium, or First Edition model will find they have all the necessary hardware in advance and only need to pony up the $600. The Mach-E Select will also be eligible, provided it has the $3,200 Comfort and Technology package.

Availability is supposed to begin in the third quarter of this year and we expect to see another announcement a few days ahead of the official launch of Ford BlueCruise.

[Images: Ford Motor Co.]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Ryoku75 Ryoku75 on Apr 15, 2021

    Makes sense for the Mustang Model E, but I can't see this working too well with heavy loads, trailers, nor illegal lift kits. Basically your usual F-150 things. Can't say that I like Fords higher focus on data collection than quality control. But when you have iconic names to throw around I guess you can get away with anything.

    • EBFlex EBFlex on Apr 15, 2021

      Thing is they can’t get away with it because at the end of the day, all people want is reliable transportation. You can’t produce garbage and expect people to but it based on calling it a Mustang or because it says F150 on it. Granted that is what Ford is hoping for as they move away from basic engineering but people are catching on.

  • Schmitt trigger Schmitt trigger on Apr 15, 2021

    How many people believe that THE best reason for a self driving vehicle is the ability to be making out with your girlfriend while the car cruises around on its own? But with a driver-focused camera?

    • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Apr 15, 2021

      I was thinking more along the lines of "Hey Siri, drive home and make me an Old Fashioned"

  • J I haven't owned a sedan since like 2011 had a ford fusion and impala then I discovered hatchbacks beats an SUV but the amount of stuff I can do with my little hatchbacks leaves sedan owners and even some SUV and truck owners surprised
  • Dougjp It seems like I'm in a minority by rejecting CUV/SUVs and wanting "cars" instead. Its because, comparing apples to apples (same specs), I don't want (a) worse performance, (b) worse handling, (c) worse fuel economy, (d) worse road & wind noise and (e) higher cost. I'm quite willing to PAY for shipping that costs way less than 1% of the difference between the cost of a car and a comparable CUV/SUV, to buy a bulky piece of furniture from a store that doesn't provide free shipping. Which I would seldom buy anyway. The problem is, people don't think logically, and would rather default to herd mentality. Its the same as why people buy "off road vehicles", complete with ugly add on patch body work to "look the part", then they never go off road.
  • FreedMike How about one for a brown diesel wagon?
  • Lou_BC “Can the sedan be saved?" Big V8's gave Dodge products some extra life. Kinda like a pacemaker/defibrillator in a lifetime pack/day smoker.................... People want easy access/egress, good visibility, dad/mom bod room, and a bit of cargo space.
  • Conslaw I rented an Altima for a 2,000 mile drive in 2019. It was a fantastic vehicle for that purpose. It had all the features we could want, was quiet, comfortable, peppy, and delivered 37-40 MPG, including stretches with 80 mph speed limits. I'd like to see any CUV do that.
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