Amazon’s digital assistant will roll out to about 700,000 Ford vehicles this year, including new and recent models of the pickup, as well as the Bronco and the electric Mustang Mach-E in the U.S. and Canada. New and existing vehicles powered by Ford’s SYNC-4 in-car software will also offer drivers the option of invoking Alexa hands-free.
“It’s going to grow to millions really quickly,” said Alex Purdy, who leads business operations for Ford’s Enterprise Connectivity group.
For Amazon, the six-year deal is the broadest single rollout of Alexa in vehicles to date, a rare instance of an automaker integrating the voice-activated software natively. That means drivers can access Alexa directly from the dash entertainment system without using a phone, downloading an app, or pressing a push-to-talk button. The companies declined to disclose financial terms of the agreement, which builds on a commercial deal announced in 2017.
“It’s very expansive,” Dave Limp, an Amazon senior vice president who leads the company’s devices and services group, said of the deal. “Ford has been working for the past couple of years to enable their cars to have this hands-free experience. We were able to take advantage of it.”
Ford will provide drivers with free internet connectivity that enables Alexa features, such as asking for directions and messaging — but not music streaming — for three years. After that they’ll likely need to pay for a data or software plan, which Ford hasn’t detailed yet.
The dashboard has become prized real estate for automakers and tech giants eager to extend their reach. Despite its leading position in home digital assistants thanks to Alexa and the Echo smart speaker, Amazon has been playing catchup on the road. Many drivers prefer to link the phone they carry to their vehicle, putting Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google in a commanding position thanks to their domination of the smartphone market.