Ford Wants to Track Your Test Drive

The automakers recent patent for in-vehicle data tracking and analysis adds to the future of connected vehicles.

Photo of a Ford patent
Photo via U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

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Ford may want to get to know its drivers better through their vehicle data. 

The automaker is seeking to patent a “connected vehicle data usage framework.” Ford’s tech essentially brings the concept of browser cookies into its vehicles: The system captures and tracks in-vehicle data usage by “potential vehicle customers” to create a “per-customer recommendation” for the dealership to use. 

“A typical customer may spend several hours at a dealership to close a sale,” Ford said in its patent. “This delay may be caused by the customer and the dealership working to identify which model of vehicle and/or which vehicle features are desired by the customer.” 

Ford’s system collects “connected data” about a driver’s on-road habits during a test drive. This includes which routes you take, if you drive local versus highways, in-car entertainment choices, vehicle color choices, and how you drive. For example, if you tend to brake harshly, this system will pick up on that and recommend a package that includes premium brakes. If you spend a lot of time with the in-car computer, it may note that you’re “tech-savvy,” and recommend a premium technology package. 

These analytics allow the dealership to provide individualized incentives or “recommendations for enticing the customer to purchase” a vehicle, Ford said. This data may also be used to recommend certain premium features, such as parking assist or lane-keeping assistance, or tailor discounts to specific customers. 

Additionally, a test driver’s data may aggregate multiple customer data to determine a “general broader customer choice.” 

Ford has filed a number of patents aimed at getting closer to its drivers to enhance the experience. The company previously sought to patent a biometric car key that unlocks doors automatically, an in-car workspace that tracks the orientation of users’ heads, ears and mouths, and a system for providing targeted ads within a vehicle

The company’s patents signal its interest in competing in the growing connected car space. And while the market is currently small, it already has some stiff competition: Tesla’s cars come with in-vehicle cameras that can keep track of drivers and passengers. 

The automaker has also previously sought to patent an in-vehicle “personalization system” that relies on several different sensors to give riders a “humanized in-vehicle experience.” Though Ford’s system seems to be used specifically to inform dealerships of driver’s wants and needs pre-purchase, the ethos of these two patents are the same: Tracking users as a means to offer a more intuitive and informed experience. 

That said, Tesla has run into backlash related to mishandling data collected by its in-cabin sensors. Reuters reported last April that Tesla employees shared sensitive images taken by drivers’ vehicles, and was hit with a class action lawsuit relating to the allegations. 

While this patent seems to limit Ford’s data collection to test-drives only, the company may have to tread carefully with its connected car ambitions if it’s collecting and handling sensitive user data.