Ford Hopes Open App Access With Boost Customer Engagement

Despite the advance of connected car services, many automakers are still witnessing disappointing take-up from consumers seemingly unimpressed by their offerings.

Yet, Gavin Sherry, CEO of Ford’s Smart Mobility company Autonomic told TU-Automotive that there is no need to panic. He explained: “We are at the beginning of all this and that is why the uptake can be seen as a bit slow.”

He drew an analogy with the early days of smartphones when they remained just voice and text devices despite having the power to become so much more important in consumers’ digital lives. Sherry said: “It was the same with smartphones at the start when they had maybe only 25 apps available. We are at that stage and the apps are currently very closely monitored by the automakers so you have to be on the inside to get them done.”

He said Ford is dedicated to changing this dynamic to help connected cars achieve the same status as a customer’s mobile device. Sherry said: “With Ford we are trying to open this all up to become more like the iPhone. We hope this will lead to deeper integrations of the vehicle mobility into people’s digital lives.”

So, what can consumers expect from the connected cars of the future? “Some of the things we think will be unlocked, although these are speculative at the moment, location services such as you are driving and bound for a certain destination.” Sherry said. “It could be attractive to the consumer to know the right time to arrive, where parking is, nearby shops if people like you use those facilities. The sport of conveniences we associate with Amazon or other online shopping systems. This could close the loop with the car making it frictionless simple and convenient just like ordering an Uber or buying online – we want to bring that convenience to mobility.”

Ford head of mobility programs, Rich Strader, said the carmaker has already begun looking at niche services that satisfy a need for particular customers. He explained: “There are a few other things most people haven’t really thought about that you can do in a vehicle. The very reason that there’s a bunch of different data in a vehicle so, for instance, people who buy performance vehicles we have an app that allows you to track whatever you did, possibly on a race track, and you can compare your times. We are pretty sure people will pay for that app and commit to that data being available to improve their performance and, in time, help us make the vehicles even better.”

Sherry concluded that consumer trust in handing over their data to access these services is paramount to increasing the uptake of on-board customer engagement. He said: “I think it’s easier to ask a consumer to opt in if you are whole heartedly doing the right thing. There’s a rigorous consent system, you’re using best practices around privacy such as Apple and you are not doing creepy things with people’s data. So, rather than being seen as just trying to monetize the customer, you are trying to provide value back to the customer and building an ecosystem around it so everyone feels like they are getting something out of it including the end consumer.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_



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