In our Mustang Mach-E v FAQs series, we’re breaking down the inner-workings of the first Ford all-electric vehicle built from the ground up. Part two (of three) revolves around its unique machine-learning capabilities.
You wake up, grab your phone (which doubles as a key*) and head to the garage, where an illuminated pony is projected on the ground, lighting your path upon approach.
A circle of light encapsulates the door button upon approach. You open the door, and a Mustang pony dances across the 15.5-inch touch screen and over the digital instrument cluster. Then with a push of the start button the driver seat is adjusted to your preference; the cabin climate is adjusted to your liking.
Your favorite type of music seeps out of the speakers; a suggestion for your favorite coffee shop pops up on the navigation screen. The vehicle’s interior takes on the hue of your preferred ambient lighting option. And when you hit the road, you begin to hear driving sounds, even though you’re sitting in the seat of an all-electric vehicle, which is supposed to be silent.
This is your experience in the Ford Mustang Mach-E, and the engineers behind it put in a lot of work to make sure you could tailor it in a variety of ways, from the color of its ambient lighting to the destination and music recommendations to even whether you’d like to hear artificial engine noise piped through the audio system.
Creating such personal experiences required the engineers to think beyond just technology and efficiency — to stop thinking like engineers, in other words, and more like the drivers behind the wheel, according to Husein Dakroub, the Mustang Mach-E SYNC software supervisor.
“I know one of our leaders said this early on… ‘Don’t think too much like engineers because you end up doing things in a more of an engineered way or engineered driven way,’” he says. “So we took more of a design approach.”
Dakroub is following this approach while speaking with me through video chat, along with Ford Chief Engineer Ron Heiser. Together they’re trying to stay clear of the hyper-analytical nature of engineering something as complex as the Mustang Mach-E — the first Ford all-electric vehicle built from the ground up and the first time the Mustang has taken the form of an SUV — and instead focusing on what the vehicle will make you feel.
We know (because it’s a Mustang) the Mustang Mach-E will make us feel exhilarated with its impressive torque capabilities. But can it make us also feel relaxed on days when we’re feeling a little stressed? Or help us have fun on a beautiful sunny afternoon?
These are the types of philosophical questions you may not expect from engineers, but ones that are somewhat required when working on a Mustang specifically, according to Heiser.
“When you look at the lineage or the legacy of the Mustang all the way back to 1965, it was all about fast, fun, and freedom. What somebody thinks is fun three generations later, it’s evolved…fun in 2021 has a lot to do with tech.”
Much of the tech — which adds even more “fun” to the driving experience — in the Mustang Mach-E revolves around connectivity and machine learning. This is the “DNA” of the vehicle, Ford calls it, which is the ability of the vehicle to get to know you, the driver, so it can learn about your preferences as you use it. This takes form through “suggestions” and “quick actions” around driving routes, music preferences, cabin climate and more.
For example: Say it’s time for your weekly visit to your parents’ house. Taking into account your routine, time of the day and general direction you’re headed toward, the Mustang Mach-E with SYNC® 4A** will suggest your parents’ address as a destination and then, if you approve (you also have the ability to ignore suggestions, Dakroub emphasizes) you’ll be directed along that route.
And say you want to listen to some of your favorite music on that drive — maybe something calming, because, again, you’re visiting your parents — Ford teamed with SiriusXM to create genre and song suggestions. Or maybe you usually give your parents a call on the way, the Mustang Mach-E would then recommend that action, too.
All this is done through its SYNC® 4A, the Ford in-vehicle voice-activated communications system (and, when it comes to this iteration, Dakroub’s baby). He helped redesign it from the ground up and explains that it now can fully live up to its potential thanks to cloud technology, which allows it to update seamlessly.
“We wanted to deliver a digital experience that’s visually appealing,” he says. “We flipped the script from a more traditional IP to something much more different and exciting.”
Other unique personalization tools, like being able to use your smartphone as the vehicle’s key (with the use of the Phone as a Key feature) or being able to tune the Mustang Mach-E preset preferences before it arrives (with the use of Remote Vehicle Setup), will help redefine the driver experience, the engineers hope — but not so much that it’s unrecognizable.
Decisions had to be made constantly about what should stay and what should go; which technologies should be implemented and which old-school mechanisms should stick around for comfort (the engineers considered adding a digital volume gauge within the SYNC 4A 15.5-inch screen, for example, before receiving customer feedback that the tactile knob was preferred). Almost all of it was done with customer feedback in mind, as well as the overarching mantra to only implement what’s necessary.
“Our challenge was how do we bring in something that is new and improved…but how do we not make this such a shock to the system that somebody gets into the car and they don’t know what to do?” Heiser says.
Intuition, in other words, is key. The best showcase of this future-looking tech in the Mustang Mach-E are the driving experiences: “Engage,” Whisper” and “Unbridled.”
“Whisper” activates a calm driving experience, gradual acceleration and turns the cabin ambient lighting blue; “Engage” kicks things up a notch, with a balance of excitement and comfort and a soft-blue ambient lighting. “Unbridled,” meanwhile, has a sporty steering feel, with increased throttle response, enhanced driving sounds and an orange color.
All this, paired with the machine learning capabilities of the Mustang Mach-E, make it an ultra-personalized ride. If I were to step into the SUV, the lighting would turn purple (additional lighting options are available outside the drive experiences), a jazzy old-school hip-hop song would be chosen, and I’d buckle up for a smooth, relaxing drive to the beach.
Everyone’s Mustang Mach-E experience is different because every driver is different, and Ford has taken this concept and ran with it masterfully.
“I think the challenging thing was we really wanted to deliver an exceptional user experience from the get-go,” Dakroub says. “If I look back, I think most if not all the decisions we made were right on point.”
*Phone As A Key requires feature activation. Not compatible with all smartphones.
**Don’t drive while distracted or while using handheld devices. Use voice-operated systems when possible. Some features may be locked out while the vehicle is in gear. Not all features are compatible with all phones.
Reed Jackson is a Writer for G/O Media Studios