Ford Cars Will Integrate Google Android and Google Assistant Starting in 2023
Millions of Ford Motor Company vehicles will run Google’s Android operating system, including Google Assistant, starting in 2023. The six-year deal to incorporate Google technology into Ford’s operations appears to be a replacement for the existing Ford SYNC operating system, built in-house on the Cerence Drive platform over the last 15 years.
Ford and Google
Ford and Google’s partnership is taking the form of a group called Team Upshift. Using Google Cloud as its preferred cloud provider, Ford will incorporate Google’s tech into several projects ahead of the 2023 debut of Android-powered Ford and Lincoln vehicles. As with other cars running Android, Google Assistant will become the default voice assistant. The arrangement adds Google’s AI to other parts of Ford’s business, too, including manufacturing and supply chain organization. Ford plans to rely on Google Cloud to connect with customers as well, letting them know about when they need maintenance, for instance.
“As Ford continues the most profound transformation in our history with electrification, connectivity and self-driving, Google and Ford coming together establishes an innovation powerhouse truly able to deliver a superior experience for our customers and modernize our business,” Ford president and CEO Jim Farley said in a statement. “We are obsessed with creating must-have, distinctively Ford products and services. This integration will unleash our teams to innovate for Ford and Lincoln customers while seamlessly providing access to Google’s world-class apps and services.”
The version of Android Ford will use isn’t entirely clear. Neither Google nor Ford references Android Automotive, the native operating system controlled via Google Assistant. That’s what Groupe PSA is installing in its cars starting in 2023, with Volvo ahead of the curve. But, it also won’t rely on a smartphone connection like the similarly named Android Auto. The integration of Google with General Motors also doesn’t seem to totally fit Ford and Google’s plans for deeply connecting Android and Ford cars.
The breadth of Ford’s deal with Google is notable for many reasons, not least of which is the timing. The company’s SYNC 4 voice assistant platform came out just last year. In June, Ford asked automotive AI developer Cerence to incorporate its conversational AI and voice recognition tech into SYNC 4. Farley became CEO of Ford in October, and just a few months later, the Google announcement drops. It was just a couple of weeks ago that Sunny Madra, vice president of Ford X, joined the Cerence Drive 2.0 rollout event to praise the company’s voice tech in what was arguably a tacit approval of the partnership between the two companies.
Relying on Ford’s proprietary software and Cerence as the conversational AI software put some limits on Ford’s voice assistant. SYNC 4 can’t download apps from Google Play, a change Ford highlighted in its announcement. On the other hand, running on its own system meant Ford kept control of any information exchanged between the driver and the AI, something carmakers have, until recently, been reluctant to share with voice assistant platforms. Using Google Cloud means that Ford has shifted positions on that front. SYNC isn’t necessarily going away, however. Android can be a very accommodating system for alternative voice assistants. Both Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa will still be options for drivers who prefer not to use Google Assistant; perhaps Ford SYNC will be one.[I]t’s important that the vehicle’s platform supports multiple assistants, and that an ecosystem of partners can easily give that choice to your customers, so they can leverage all those capabilities quite easily out of the same interface,” Madra said at the Cerence event. He pointed to the value of that ecumenical approach with SYNC in particular. “When the SYNC journey started, it was because there was a recognition by the company that end-user technology needed to merge with the vehicle. What I see now with SYNC is its role as a platform to support drivers with services from external partners like Cerence.”