The electric and digital transformation of the automotive industry comes with many promises for a better tomorrow. Electric vehicles could dramatically reduce carbon emissions in the transport sector. Connected cars will give us access to services and features that we don’t currently enjoy. Over-the-air software updates could eliminate high repair costs. and automated vehicles can make driving significantly safer.
But it’s worth remembering that, at the end of the day, car companies are just out to make money, not make the world a better place.
This week, it was revealed that Ford has applied for a patent on a system that would use connected car technology to better assist in vehicle recovery. News of the patent publication was first reported by A drive this week (which, in the interest of full disclosure, is a publication where I previously served as editorial director) and describes a variety of procedures regarding reshipping cars when payments are late.
Ford has filed for a patent on a system that would use connected car technology to better help recover vehicles
These include sending messages to the owner’s smartphone or the vehicle itself, locking drivers out, turning off features such as air conditioning, geo-fencing drivers to only operate within a certain time or area so they can still get to job and in one particularly scary example , enabling a self-driving car to drive itself into an impound lot — or into a junkyard if the car’s market value is determined to be below a certain threshold.
Someone at Ford put a lot of thought into all of this.
The patent document describes dozens of remote and electronic ways to revolutionize the entire recovery process, including direct contact with lending institutions and the police.
Currently, this process is much more low-tech, but is still notoriously aggressive and lacks supervision. In states like California and New York, repossession can happen if an owner is even a few weeks behind on payments, and creditors aren’t even required to notify drivers before it happens.
A homeowner’s rights in this situation depend on the state they live in and what is included in the loan agreement.
Whether car owners can even rehabilitate their loans by taking the current balance depends on what’s in their loan agreement, and their right to do so varies from state to state. If they can’t get their car back, it could be quickly auctioned off.
The patent document describes dozens of remote and electronic ways to revolutionize the entire recovery process, including direct contact with lending institutions and the police
In recent years, the use of electronic transponders in cars financed through subprime loans has increased. These devices put lower-income or bad-credit buyers at risk of having their vehicles remotely disabled if they fall behind on payments.
Ford’s patent, however, takes this concept to a galaxy-brain level, devising multiple scenarios where connected vehicle data and autonomy can be used to instantly recover vehicles should owners slip.
The knee jerk reaction to all of this is “Make your car payments on time.” And that’s certainly true, but it doesn’t take deep introspection to realize that people fall behind on payments and other bills all the time and for all kinds of reasons. These include sudden job loss, unexpected medical expenses, personal emergencies, or the loss of a partner or family member who contributed to the payments. You do wants to get their car back, after all.
Ford Self-Recovery Car Patent by ahawkins8223 on Scribd
But this Ford patent represents a kind of nightmare scenario for the future of connected cars, where the car — long a symbol of personal freedom and still advertised as such — comes with much more external, software-driven control of where we’re going. what we do, and how we do it. Just as automakers want you to sign up for features you once had in advance, like heated seats, or seek restrictions on whether or not you have the right to repair your vehicle, the new era of cars will undoubtedly come with many more rows.
The recovery patent is especially dangerous when you consider the state of the car market in recent years.
Cars are more expensive than ever and people are finding it harder than ever to pay for them, a trend that was happening even before the pandemic created a critical supply chain in the market. By the end of last year, the average new car in America cost a record $49,507, according to Kelley Blue Book. This new crop of electric vehicles — which will no doubt be the first to feature such technologies — are even more expensive at around $61,448 per vehicle.
It doesn’t take deep introspection to realize that people fall behind on payments and other bills all the time and for all kinds of reasons
Automakers have spent years pushing buyers into more expensive trucks, SUVs and crossovers and eliminating smaller cars from their lineups in order to take advantage of those vehicles’ higher margins. The result was longer loan terms, a rise in negative equity from previous auto loans, and more total auto debt than ever before. Just this week, Luck reported that America is now seeing its highest rate of “serious delinquency” since 2006, as high interest rates and skyrocketing prices strain citizens’ budgets. Used car prices are even more incredible.
Finally, car companies may have learned the worst lessons from the pandemic’s car shortages. The result was cases such as General Motors halting production of its most popular trucks to “maintain optimal inventory levels,” leading to fears that supply could be kept artificially low in order to keep prices high.
In other words, automakers and their dealers have spent years raising car prices or taking advantage of market conditions. Now they’re devising high-tech ways to pay back owners if they can’t pay.
Of course, this isn’t the kind of technology-related headline Ford wants. The automaker declined in a statement published in various outlets, saying it has no plans to roll out that system. “We file patents for new inventions as a normal course, but they are not necessarily indicative of new business plans or products,” Ford said in a statement.
Even if you take Ford at their face value there, this sort of thing can absolutely be done. In a world where automakers actively fight your ability to repair your own car, there’s no reason to believe they always have the best interests of consumers in mind. And while connected car technology is still in its infancy, it’s only a matter of time before these cars enter the used market or the technology spreads to cheaper vehicles.
So when we look at how car technology is progressing in the coming years, it’s worth asking drivers everywhere: Who is it all for? And is this next generation of cars going to save the planet and its people or just save the auto industry?