Ford Hopes BlueCruise Trials Will Boost Subscriptions

Ford is offering BlueCruise in some 500,000 vehicles in a 90-day trial, to get owners to buy subscriptions to the hands-free service.

David Kiley

August 17, 2023

4 Min Read
BlueCruise_Ford_F-150_01 - Copy 2
Ford is offering customers 90-day trials of BlueCruise hands-free driving.

Hands-free driving options are not flying off the shelves at Ford, General Motors, and other automakers. Ford is offering buyers and lessees of some 500,000 2024 models a free 90-day trial of its BlueCruise feature to boost interest.

Customers who decide it’s a “gotta-have” feature will have the option to then pay for monthly or annual subscriptions. Customers can buy or lease a Ford with BlueCruise preactivated for 36 months for $2,100. The cost of the hands-free driving feature also can be bundled into vehicle financing. Buyers can purchase annual plans for $800 or for $75 monthly.

It’s a similar strategy automakers tried with satellite radio. Try and get the customer hooked with a short-term subscription and hope they want to keep it.

BlueCruise is becoming standard on more Ford vehicles so that customers can choose to activate the system after driving the car away from the dealer. When BlueCruise launched, the system only could be active and operating with a paid-for subscription at the start.

“We believe in this technology and how it can help transform the highway driving experience and want to allow more customers to try it and provide flexibility for them to activate it when they want to use it,” says Ashley Lambrix, head of commercial acceleration for Ford Model e.

How much do consumers really want hands-free driving?

According to a survey of 1,010 drivers by the Journal of Safety Research:

  • 80% of drivers want to use lane centering but more prefer versions with a hands-on-wheel requirement (36%) than hands-free (27%).

  • More than half of drivers are comfortable with different driver monitoring strategies, but the comfort level is related to perceptions of feeling safer with it, given its role in helping drivers use the technology properly.

  • People who prefer hands-free lane centering are the most accepting of other vehicle technologies, including driver monitoring, but some also indicate an intent to misuse these features. The public is somewhat more reluctant to accept auto lane change, with 73% saying they would use it, and more often prefer it to be driver-initiated (45%) than vehicle-initiated (14%).

  • Over three-quarters of drivers want auto lane change to have a hands-on-wheel requirement. 

Those numbers illustrate consumer ambivalence over advanced-driver-assistance systems (ADAS).

The systems on the market today work similarly:

  • Ford BlueCruise uses an adaptive cruise control system and a lane-centering assist system to keep the vehicle centered in its lane and a certain distance from the other vehicles on the highway. Hands-free BlueCruise works on certain divided highways across the United States. The driver still needs to pay attention to the road and be ready to take over when the system requests it or when an emergency maneuver is needed. Even minor turns of the head elicit dashboard warnings to keep eyes on road.

  • GM’s Super Cruise uses cameras, sensors, GPS information and high-definition LiDAR map data to steer and maintain the vehicle’s position in the current lane. However, drivers must pay attention and keep their eyes on the road while using Super Cruise.

  • Nissan’s ProPilot 2.0 system can operate hands-free on over 200,000 miles of certain highways.

  • BMW’s Extended Traffic Jam Assistant provides hands-free driving at speeds up to 40 mph (64 km/h) on certain highways. BMW will introduce a new highway assistant allowing drivers to automatically maintain speeds up to 80 mph (129 km/h) and provide automatic lane changes hands-free.

  • Mercedes’ Drive Pilot is a hands-free driving system, the first Level 3 conditional automated drive system ever offered in the U.S., in the S-Class as well as the EQS electric sedan. With Level 3, the interior camera must see the driver’s face, but the driver can take their eyes off the road.

  • Tesla Full Self-Driving system is available on newer models with the appropriate hardware. Despite its name, Full Self-Driving isn’t yet a self-driving system, though Tesla says it will be at one point in the future. For the current Full Self-Driving system to have hands-free capability, owners must opt-in to the Beta version. Full-Self Driving Beta can operate hands-free on most regular roads or highways.

Expect other automakers to follow Ford’s model. Companies want profits from advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) subscriptions going forward, so they will install the hardware whether the customer wants it or not from the beginning. Later, if the customer wants it, it can be activated it via Over-The-Update (OTA).

According to Precedence Research, the size of the global autonomous vehicle market was $121.78 billion in 2022. It is projected to hit around $2,354 billion by 2032, poised to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 35% from 2023 to 2032. Costs to the customer, though, may have to come down for those numbers to be reached.

The biggest challenge for autonomous vehicles is achieving a high level of safety, which can be documented and reported through media platforms and trust.

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