Ford has submitted a patent application for a self-driving vehicle that has the ability to repossess itself if the owner fails to make car payments. This application was initially filed two years ago but was just recently published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The application proposes a series of computer interactions that would initiate a “multi-step repossession procedure” in case of delinquency.

Financial institutions could send drivers or leaseholders multiple warnings about missed payments before the vehicle is eventually locked or made to cooperate with repossession processes initiated by the lending agency. If the owner fails to acknowledge these warnings within a reasonable period of time, the first computer may disable the functionality of a component of the vehicle or place the vehicle in a lockout condition. However, the lockout condition can be lifted momentarily in case of an emergency to allow the vehicle to travel to a medical facility.

The technology could be implemented in several vehicle classes, including electric and internal combustion vehicles. In the event of missed payments, the technology could begin to deactivate vehicle features such as the air conditioning system, remote key fobs, and automated locks to “cause an additional level of discomfort to a driver and occupants of the vehicle” and encourage payment submissions. Alternatively, the technology could activate chimes, beepers, or radios to “emit an incessant and unpleasant sound every time the owner is present in the vehicle.”

With more unheeded car payment warnings, the driver could also be subjected to a “geofence” outside of which systems needed to drive the car would be deactivated. The system could also lock the vehicle outside of work hours to avoid “adversely affecting the livelihood of the owner of the vehicle,” thereby “hampering the owner’s ability to make payments.”

If the owner still fails to make payments, the vehicle could call for a tow truck company; semi-autonomous vehicles could move themselves to a location “more convenient” for the tow truck operators, while fully autonomous vehicles could be moved “from the premises of the owner” to the premises of a repossession agency or lending institution without a tow truck. In the case of high mileage vehicles, they could be directed to automatically drive themselves to a junkyard if repossession costs are substantially high. If the driver attempts to “foil a repossession procedure” and block the vehicle’s path, the vehicle could call the police.

The patent application comes as more consumers default on their automotive loans due to economic turmoil and inflationary pressures. According to a report from Cox Automotive, the number of debtors delinquent by more than 60 days increased 26.7% year-over-year as of December 2022, marking the highest rate since the aftermath of the financial crisis. Some 1.84% of loans were severely delinquent.

Over the past two years, inflation has prompted consumers to use more debt while financing their transactions. Higher economy-wide interest rates induced by the Federal Reserve are meanwhile translating to record car payments. According to data from the car review website Edmunds, average annual percentage rates on new financed vehicles increased from 5.7% in the third quarter of 2022 to 6.5% in the fourth quarter of 2022, while the rate for used financed vehicles increased from 9% to 10%.

Despite the higher amounts of indebtedness and resultant delinquency levels, financial institutions have previously carried out abuses by repossessing vehicles. Last year, Wells Fargo agreed to a $3.7 billion settlement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau after the bank illegally assessed fees on various loans and wrongly repossessed cars.

Ford’s proposed technology has the potential to be a new tool for financial institutions, but it could also be viewed as a way to further subjugate people who are already struggling to make ends meet.

It is important to consider the potential consequences of this technology. If not implemented correctly, it could have serious implications

Sources: Dailywire, CoxAutomotive

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.