Ford’s Connected Focus Winning Consumer Hearts

Carmakers have long been attempting to find ways to make their products as much as possible interoperable and, even, interchangeable with their consumers’ smartphones.

They are doing this with one clear focus in mind – to gain the sort of access to consumer data that the smartphone operators and telecoms providers currently enjoy. That’s because where there’s data, there’s a way of making extra revenues by either providing extra monetized services themselves or by ‘renting out’ space on their platforms to interested third-party providers.

With this strategy in mind, much is expected of Ford’s C-segment family car not least that it heralds the mass market’s first incarnation of a connected future of mobility. Even before the third generation model’s launch, back at Ford’s Go Further event in the autumn of 2016, the then CEO Mark Fields told me the carmaker’s strategy focused on future mobility, electric powertrain and autonomous innovations. During his presentation, Fields highlighted Ford’s vehicles roles in a future of mobility solutions that addressed declining car ownership and increasing demand for car-sharing.

Yet, after his speech I managed to grab a quick one-to-one chat with Fields who told me despite the expected trends, he said car ownership will still figure large in the Blue Oval’s product plans. Fields said: “When you think of our core business, there will still be people who want to own vehicles and to drive them plus there is population growth around the world and that will support product.”

It’s possible he had a product like the new Ford Focus in mind, as the most connected vehicle the carmaker has made to date and a way of getting consumers to use Ford services in exchange for valuable data. While it’s early days in the life of the new car, Charles Nolan, connectivity manager Ford of Europe told TU-Automotive that consumers are warming to the connectivity the car’s latest SYNC 3 system coupled with the Ford Pass Connect remote access smartphone app not least as peace of mind that they’ve locked the car!

He said: “Most of the feedback is based on our US experience where we’ve found the customers are enjoying all the connectivity features of which the remote locking feature is gets infinitely more use than the unlock function. This is probably because people are a bit more forgetful and want to double-check that their cars are really locked.

“One of the other most used features is ‘find my car’ on a map. This might sound a little strange but it’s the second most used feature for consumers in the States probably because they have some really big carparks to cope with. I suspect that for European customers, this is a feature they will use when they are parked somewhere not familiar. We have also added the function to send the car’s destination to your phone which allows you to park where you can and then continue on foot to the final destination using your phone’s navigation.”

Nolan also agreed that the car’s advanced connectivity package could increasingly become a sales draw as consumers get used to having services provided in the Ford package. He said: “Indicative early feedback is that consumers are interested in the connectivity. When we initially launched SYNC it was a huge success in terms of getting people to use their handsfree for voice calling. So, the connectivity of a car is getting more important as we get used to more connected features in life generally. One thing difficult to quantify in terms of use, is the live traffic feature because it’s built into the system so while people are using it, we can’t yet say how important it is to them.”

The connectivity is free for two years but then rolls out into an annual UK subscription of £80 ($104) for the Ford Pass Connect remote access and a further £60 ($78) for the Live Traffic sat-nav function. With so many free navigation choices available, including Waze now downloaded onto the car’s infotainment system, where’s the incentive to sign up to the Live Traffic feature after the initial free period?

Said Nolan: “There are several different ways people can navigate and we have given them a tiered structure to give them as many options as we can. So, there’s a basic SYNC 3 navigation that comes with DAB radio updates but, as you know, this only updates every 15-20 minutes and may not be quite as up-to-date as you need it. You can enhance this with our live traffic offer with Ford Pass Connect which has the advantage of being a managed service taking data from something like 100 sources that HERE maps pull from. This includes government construction data and also traffic information recorded from the cars themselves. That is a big advantage we get when compared to something like Google Maps – they’ll close a road when the government says it’s closed whereas we will know that if our cars are driving through it, the road is open to use.

“The last aspect is that people who are already familiar with Waze or other partners Sygic, another app platform you can use on AppLink, they can still continue to use these services if they prefer. However, the advantages of the Ford system is that you need not plug anything in, you don’t have to stick a cradle to the windscreen, there’s a nice clean in-built functionality to use which is a lot less hassle. Another advantage of the Ford live traffic is that all the data is covered by us as part of that subscription whereas if you’re using your phone, you are paying for that data.”

Another function that consumers in areas with harsh winter weather that Ford’s data has recorded getting a good amount of use, is the remote starting function. Nolan explained: “A feature that gets peaks and troughs of use is the remote start. So, when it is cold weather, there’s a peak in use for people to de-ice their windscreens. Much less so for people to use this in hot weather to cool the cabin before use. To be honest, in Europe we wouldn’t encourage people to do this because the feature is really there to make the vehicle safe to drive.”

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

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