Ford does about-face on connected car strategy, inks deal with AT&T to outfit 10M cars with LTE by 2020

LAS VEGAS -- AT&T (NYSE: T) just added Ford Motor Co. to its growing list of automakers sporting the company's LTE modules. Ford announced that it plans to connect more than 10 million cars with its AT&T-powered SYNC Connect service within the next five years. 

Ford's announcement is a turnaround for the car maker, which had previously stated that its connected car strategy was focused on having consumers connect their cars to the network through an existing smartphone, and not through a wireless modem embedded in its cars.  

In fact at a 2013 FierceWireless executive panel on "Driving the business case for the connected car" at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Doug VanDagens, global director of connected services solutions at Ford Motor Company said: "The last thing we want to do is take this [smartphone] thing that updates every 12-18 months and bolt it into a car with a lifecycle of at least 10 years."

Ford joins eight other major automakers that have signed deals with AT&T for LTE connectivity. According to Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobile and Business Solutions, the wireless operator now has deals with nine of the top 16 car makers in the world.

Ford outlined specifics of what its SYNC Connect will do, including allow drivers to remotely lock and unlock doors, use the built-in GPS system to locate parked vehicles on a map, remotely start the vehicle and view information such as fuel and battery level and tire pressure.

"Vehicle owners want the convenience that comes with being connected at home and on the go," said Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president, global product development and CTO. "With SYNC Connect, we are able to provide features and services that make the car an even more seamless part of our customers' connected lifestyles."

Of course, Ford's change of heart regarding the connected car may come from some of the recent comments its competitors have made about their connected car profits. Last year, General Motor's said it expects to report around $350 million in profit during the next three years through its connected car efforts, much of which are because of GM's extensive relationship with AT&T. In February 2013, GM announced that it would replace Verizon Wireless' (NYSE: VZ) service with AT&T's service in its OnStar offering beginning in 2014. And in January 2014, GM revealed its first cars to be connected in partnership with AT&T. Since then, GM has added AT&T's LTE to more than 30 of its 2015-model vehicles in North America, and expects all 2016 models to have the connectivity.

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