Ford's SmartLink Device Adds Connected Features to Old Cars

Ford's SmartLink Device Adds Connected Features to Old Cars

Ford Motor Co. today announced it would sell a plug-in device to enable connectivity features on 2010-2016 model year Ford and Lincoln cars. It’s designed for cars without the built-in modem access Ford uses to add software and features to newer vehicles.

The automotive industry is being driven by the convergence of connectivity, continuous innovation and changing customer needs. The new Ford SmartLink will allow owners of vehicles from the 2010 to 2016 model years to add features that were not available when their cars were first purchased. Stephen Odell, executive vice president of global marketing, sales and service at Ford, said SmartLink "will surprise and delight owners of recent model-year vehicles by adding some of today's popular connectivity features."

SmartLink is built around a 4G LTE-enabled device that plugs into a car’s OBD II port. On-board diagnostics (OBD) is an automotive term referring to a vehicle's self-diagnostic and reporting capability. They are standard on all cars sold in the United States.

The plug-in device is paired with software that allows the car to access both an app suite and a web portal to interface with both smartphones and external networks. It enables remote engine start and door locking and unlocking through a smartphone, as well as a Verizon-enabled Wi-Fi hotspot that can support up to eight devices.

Speaking to TechCrunch, Ford’s Brett Wheatley said the feature set is designed to fit drivers at different points in their lives, highlighting how SmartLink will let parents monitor their children's driving speed and location.

For example, parents will be able to set location-based boundaries and speed limits, so that SmartLink sends them a text if a driver violated those rules. It also includes a security feature, sending owners an alert based on vibration, which could mean a break-in or stolen car. Wheatley also said the app will offer efficiency coaching, helping drivers maximize fuel economy through best acceleration and braking practices.

The device will also be helpful from a maintenance point-of-view. It will let drivers monitor their vehicle health information, alert them to any maintenance issues and allow them to schedule appointments with a Ford dealer.

“We think it’s a great opportunity for our dealers to stay connected after the time of purchase, to make sure that they’re in regular contact with that customer, keeping their vehicle in great working condition,” Wheatley said.

Pricing has not been announced yet, with Wheatley saying it could be a single up-front price or a subscription model. The device is currently undergoing pilot trials at a few dealers and is expected to be broadly available through dealerships this summer. The product will be exclusive to US drivers initially.

It's no surprise that Ford is investing in this area. The connected car market is witnessing intense competition, which is expected to intensify over the coming years as a result of product extensions and technological innovations. Analysts forecast the market to grow at a CAGR of 32.26% during the period 2016-2020.

This is the second big announcement from the automaker this week. In Tuesday’s blog, reported that Ford was launching a new brand, named Omnicraft, to sell parts to Ford dealers and independent repair shops to fix competitors’ vehicles.

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