Banking On The Power Of Annoyance

How do you incentivize someone to pay their bills? The Ford Motor Company has come up with an approach that would invoke the power of annoyance, in conjunction with “smart” technology, to encourage people who have fallen behind on their car payments to catch up.

Ford has filed for a patent on technology that would allow the car maker to take certain vehicle-related actions when a car owner misses payments. The technology could permit Ford to remotely turn off the car’s air conditioning, shut down the radio and sound system, disable cruise control and automatic windows, cause constant beeping in the car’s interior, and ultimately to lock the car owner out of the car altogether. (A car without air conditioning, radio, and working windows sounds like one of my battered ’70s cars, but I digress.) And, if the car has self-driving capability, the technology could even cause the car to drive itself to a location where it can be picked up by the repo man.

Ford’s patent application acknowledges that the disabling power of the technology “may cause an additional level of discomfort to a driver and occupants of the vehicleā€¯–which really is the whole point. Ford also says it has no plans to deploy the technology at present, but the patent application gives us a glimpse of a future where manufacturers of items that are often paid off over time equip their devices with technology that gives them self-help options in the event of non-payment. And, once the technology is installed, manufacturers would no doubt establish an order of priority that would steadily increase the annoyances until they reached the unbearable point: perhaps starting with disabling the windows and the sound system, then nixing the air conditioning during the summer, and finally counting on an irritating, incessant beeping, in combination with everything else, to bring the car owner to his knees and finally pay up.

Really, this kind of remote-controlled activity is just part of the price of “smart” technology. Once it gets rolled out in new cars, I predict it will invigorate the used car market.