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Ford no longer wants to just sell people cars. The automaker wants to help drivers find parking places and share rides, and even speak to drivers in person to help them get around.
Those are among the services available in a new smartphone app called FordPass that the company will introduce in April as it continues its push to become a "mobility company." Ford unveiled the initiative as part of a glitzy presentation Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The presentation included a cameo by TV/radio host Ryan Seacrest, a longtime Ford endorser who will be charged with helping to "broaden conversation around the future of mobility," according to a recent statement announcing a contract extension he inked with Ford.
FordPass is available for free to anyone, even non-Ford owners.
The parking service, which includes a partnership with ParkWhiz and Parkopedia, allows people to find and pay for parking by using "FordPay," a virtual wallet that is part of FordPass. FordPass also allows drivers to touch a button and speak live to so-called personal mobility assistants called "FordGuides" who can offer help such as finding routes and booking parking in advance. In a statement Ford said the guide's "only job is to guide, serve and help solve mobility challenges -- not to sell."
But Ford executives clearly see FordPass as a business opportunity to help keep the auto brand top of mind with Ford owners and potential buyers.
"From a customer standpoint, great experiences lead to long-term relationships," Ford President-CEO Mark Fields said during the presentation. "From a business standpoint [Ford Pass] will drive greater loyalty, bring new consumers and accelerate Ford in becoming a serious player in mobility services."
"Traditionally we've dedicated most of our energy and our money to attracting new customers a year before they buy a new vehicle," Mr. Fields added. "And then we pretty much don't engage until their next purchase."
How FordPass will fare among the range of existing mobility apps remains to be seen. But Ford has high ambitions, saying in a statement that the program would "do for car owners what iTunes did for music fans."
Plans include adding ride sharing, car sharing and multimodal transportation services.
Some functions are aimed at Ford owners, such as the ability to connect with dealers to schedule maintenance and service appointments. Ford owners can also use FordPass to access features such as remote starting; locking and unlocking; viewing fuel and oil levels, battery charge and tire; and to locate their vehicles, the company said.
FordPass includes a loyalty program in which members including non-Ford owners can win perks from affinity partners such as McDonald's and 7-Eleven.
Ford plans to open new retail storefronts in urban areas called FordHubs, "where consumers will be able to explore Ford's latest innovations, learn about the company's mobility services and experience exclusive events," according to the statement. The stores are slated for New York, San Francisco, London and Shanghai.
Mr. Fields said FordPass was the byproduct of a small working group within Ford that studied companies such as Disney and Nike and was aided by research from anthropologists, sociologists and digital experts.