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New Ford F-150, Mustang Mach-E can drive themselves over 160,00km of US roads

John Law

In the United States Ford is kick-starting the mainstream adoption of hands-free highway driving on both the F-150 utility vehicle, and all-electric Mustang Mach-E, both by the end of 2020. This advanced level of autonomy will only be possible on predetermined stretches of highway over in North America.

That sounds limiting initially, but due to the size of the country, Ford claims owners will be able to drive 160,000km of tarmac with their hands-free from wheels and feet away from pedals. This system is not to be confused with full autonomy, mind you. Ford’s CoPilot is still what it says on the tin – driver assistance software.

2021 Ford F-150 Limited Driver Assist
Hands-free driving in selected zones, totalling 160,000km in length.

For maximum safety, the marque has developed both advanced road and driver reading systems. The CoPilot system utilises a combination of camera and radar sensors to scan the road ahead for danger and other vehicles, and a cockpit camera keeps a close watch on the operator of the car.

Ford’s choice to take this system straight to its best selling vehicle is bold and is entirely unlike the tried and tested tech trickle-down favoured by the likes of Mercedes-Benz. The brand that first rolled out adaptive cruise on the unobtainable S-Class, and it has always been a popular way to introduce technology that Ford – at least in the USA – is about to shakeup.

2021 Ford F-150 Limited
High level autonomy available on the best-selling car, not the most expensive space ship.

Dreams of sitting back, relaxing and passing the time playing video games remain limited to concept cars. Ford doesn’t deny this, though. Hau Thai-Tang, chief product platform and operations officer at Ford made clear what the tech is for: “As breakthroughs in new technology allow us to help reduce the stress of long highway drives, it’s important to make sure these capabilities can be enjoyed by the largest spread of people possible”.

In many ways, it makes sense that the technology will first roll out on Ford’s best-selling vehicle, the F-150. Like the smaller Ranger, Ford’s biggest seller in Australia, owners of the F-150 spend massive hours behind the wheel for both work and recreation. The CoPilot 360 option package for the all-new F-150 will add US$1,595 to the purchase price – AU$2,277 at current conversion – so it’s remarkably affordable. The range-topping F-150 Limited will come with the CoPilot tech as standard.

2021 Ford Mustange Mach E Drive Assist
The electric pony car will be the other vehicle with the tech installed initially.

Mr Thai-Tang re-iterated the marque’s focus on safety for everyone: “Active Drive Assist can help improve the driving experience while ensuring people remain aware and fully in control, all for a price unmatched by our competitors”.

The wild-looking Mustang Mach-E will come equipped standard with the new safety features in top trim guises, while the entry-level Select offers it as part of a US$3,200 (AU$5,569 at the current rate) option package. 

2021 Ford Mustang Mach E
Fully electric, the Mach-E should be pretty cool when it arrives.

As added incentives, Ford is specifying every Mustang Mach-E and F-150 at launch with the required hardware for the new CoPilot system. Buyers who didn’t opt for the package will be able to retrofit the software at ford dealers for US$600 down the track. Ford will also fit both the hardware and software at a later date for late adopters. 

The system also benefits from over-the-air updates, presumably as more Hands-Free zones are added to highways in the United States the CoPilot software will be aware and vast stretches of low-stress driving. 

2021 Ford Mustang Mach E
Plenty of low-stress highway miles will soon be available to American Ford owners.

As for Australian implementation, well, it will be a while before that happens. We reckon the F-150 would sell pretty well with the new CoPilot tech. Though there will need to be approval from relevant stakeholders, and improvements in road quality, but it makes sense for a country as broad and monotonous as ours to take on this kind of stress-easing technology.