Ford’s newly revealed electric Mustang SUV, the Mach-E, is quickly becoming one of the more buzzed-about car reveals of the last few years. But while the new EV looked competent at its LA Auto Show debut, the company pretty much whiffed on one really important part of the Mustang Mach-E: the software.
The performance and practicality of the Mustang Mach-E will be big determinants of its success, but the new Sync 4 software that will power the giant 15.5-inch touchscreen at the center of the dashboard will have a major impact on day-to-day life inside this car. That’s why it was disappointing that Ford didn’t offer much of a chance to interact with the software, and in some cases was actively discouraging people from trying to use it.
That’s right: the software running on the three display cars that Ford unveiled at the Hawthorne Municipal Airport on Sunday night was so buggy that the handlers hovering around the car kept stopping people from tapping the screen. The only place people could try to interact with Sync 4 was at a single standalone kiosk in the next hangar over, which — along with the rest of the event — closed a little more than one hour after the onstage action wrapped up.
It’s possible that Ford will have that same kiosk on the LA Auto Show floor this week, and I hope they do. There’s also a full year to go until the Mustang Mach-E hits dealerships in late 2020.
But working software felt like the biggest thing missing from Sunday night’s reveal, especially after Ford CEO Jim Hackett spent about seven minutes in the lead-up to the unveiling talking about Sync 4 and the main touchscreen. He touted the “architectural type graphics” that the company’s software team developed for Sync 4 (which is apparently corporate speak for “embossed digital buttons”), hands-free voice interactions with the ability to understand contextual commands, and one-tap access to the most crucial menus and settings.
Ford gave the press a better idea about what Sync 4 will look like in the Mustang Mach-E during a briefing on the Friday before the reveal, but again there still wasn’t a lot of time for interaction. Instead, we just heard a lot about how Sync 4 will work as opposed to really seeing it in action. (Beyond what Hackett mentioned onstage, we were told about how Sync 4 will let users simultaneously use features from CarPlay or Android Auto and from Ford’s infotainment system; how Sync 4 will be able to dynamically incorporate charging stops into trips; and that the software will learn how it gets used and adapt the interface accordingly.)
Major tech companies often try to demo software live onstage only to have things go horribly awry, and vehicle reveal events are chaotic affairs, so I get that Sunday night wasn’t necessarily the best venue to show off something like Sync 4 in action. But one reason these events are held in the first place is to give the press an idea of what a car will be like. Ford dedicated 15.5 inches of Mustang Mach-E real estate to an entirely new version of its in-car software — one that will have to compete with the likes of Google’s new embedded Android Automotive operating system — but showed up to the unveiling seemingly unprepared to really show it off. For something so crucial to the Mustang Mach-E’s in-car experience, it felt like a misstep.