First impressions of FordPass Connect

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Like many industries in 2020, motoring in South Africa was severely impacted by COVID-19, resulting in a decrease in production, sales, and exports. Ford South Africa suffered similar setbacks, but like firms in the ICT space, it looks like Ford is pushing forward with its digital plans. Case in point the launch of FordPass Connect in the country, which seeks to offer drivers greater insight on their vehicles, and based on the model, the ability to control aspects of the car remotely via a dedicated app.

We spent last week Thursday and Friday exploring the FordPass Connect application, as well as the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast while driving the new Ford Ranger FX4.

Here’s what the experience yielded and what we were unable to find out about the new mobile application, which now gives Ford a digital tool akin to that of German carmakers like Audi and BMW, both of whom also revealed offerings in this space last year.

“Connectivity is the cornerstone of our mission to deliver smart vehicles for a smart world, and FordPass Connect and the FordPass app allows us to bring smart, simple-to-use real-world technologies into the hands of Ranger owners and their families, significantly enhancing their ownership experience,” says Neale Hill, MD of Ford South Africa.

“FordPass builds on Ford’s legacy of democratising class-defining technologies, starting with the first-generation SYNC  infotainment system with voice control, through to the latest SYNC 3 with Navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on all XLT models upwards,” he adds.

Starting with setup, FordPass Connect is available on both the App Store for iOS devices and Play Store for Android ones. We were asked to download the app prior to out trip, and for good reason. Within the city, Johannesburg in our case, where connectivity is relatively easy to access, the download happened easily.

Had we, for example, tried to download it at out trip’s meeting point, a remote airstrip in Port St John’s, limited connectivity would have proved a hurdle.

We were connected to Vodacom and able to get between two to three bars of 4G connectivity in the area, while other media on different networks experienced some issues.

And this brings us to one important element of the FordPass experience – connectivity – which is done over broadband and not Bluetooth. As such the quality of connectivity in the area you’re in will impact the quality of the app itself, as well as how quickly remote instructions are carried out.

The FordPass Connect version of the platform (we’ll explain the difference shortly), communicates with an embedded SIM (eSIM) in the vehicle itself, which in this case was a Ford Ranger FX4.

The eSIM elements of the platform allows users to control and command the vehicle remotely. This will include simple instructions like remotely turning the car on and off, as well as turning on the air conditioning to either cool down or warm up the interior before you get to the car. There’s also the ability to set a specific time to turn the vehicle on, should the need arise.

As these functions are eSIM-dependent, they can take longer than expected if your connectivity is poor. In the long-term then, the usefulness of the smart functions will likely live or die on where in the country you may be residing. Again, most cities should not present a problem, but remote areas that we sometimes found ourselves in, might.

As for the different between Connect and the regular version of FordPass, the aforementioned control and command functions are unavailable if an eSIM is not present on the vehicle. Ford South Africa explained to us that these eSIMs feature a proprietary design and come fitted from the factory where ICASA gives accreditation for their use int he country.

The company also notes that standard Ford Pass is available on Ranger vehicles from 2017 onwards, but the Connect iteration of the platform will only appear on Ford Ranger XL, XLS, XLT, Wildtrak and Ranger Raptor models from February 2021 onwards.

Looking at some of the features that are available on both iterations of the platform, drivers will be able to see real-time data on their vehicles. These include elements like mileage, fuel and oil levels, when a service is due, along with tire pressure levels (specific to certain models). There’s the ability to locate your vehicle if you cannot find it in a parking lot, as well as finding areas of interest in and around your current location.

Should you wish to create multiple driver profiles, say with other family members, that option is available as well, with the company saying that an infinite number of profiles can be added, but only one master profile exists, designed for the primary owner.

Ford South Africa has also given drivers control of what data is collected and who has access to it. The only exception is at the maintenance level of the car, which includes the VIN number and what servicing has been completed to date. They explain that this is essential as it is needed should the vehicle be sold and a new driver take ownership.

There’s plenty of smart functionality to the FordPass Connect application and platform, but whether new Ranger drivers are interested in the system remains to be seen.

Either way, Ford South Africa is intent on taking steps to further its capabilities in the digital space, and this new solution will be a key part of that.

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

When he's not reviewing the latest smartphones, Robin-Leigh is writing about everything tech-related from IoT and smart cities, to 5G and cloud computing. He's also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games.