Last week we attended a Ford South Africa event where the company launched a pair of new offerings. One was the new Ford Ranger FX4 and the other is FordPass Connect. While we enjoyed driving around the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast in the former, it is the latter which truly piques our interest. This as the addition of FordPass Connect now gives the carmaker a local digital tool akin to that of Audi and BMW, which both launched solutions last year.
This is not simply a reaction to that, however, as Ford South Africa tells us that the development and rollout of the Connect platform has been in the works for roughly 14 months.
Of course much of the company’s plans were scuppered by the global pandemic, but here we are, and Ford South Africa has some big plans in mind with Connect, and could pivot into a number of directions as it sees how the local market reacts to this digital solution.
“We’re taking the next step on the path towards enhanced connectivity and mobility with the launch of FordPass Connect and the FordPass app, which reinforces our commitment to delivering an improved customer experience throughout the ownership journey,” says Neale Hill, Ford South Africa MD.
“This is backed up by our focus on producing vehicles of the highest quality, delivering exceptional after-sales service and providing a suite of customer support and engagement initiatives that truly embrace each owner as part of the Ford family,” he adds.
Primed to pivot
So what’s next for FordPass Connect?
Well first and foremost is getting more drivers to use the application, of which there are two variants. One allows drivers to see vital diagnostics on their vehicles, which is available on all Ranger models from 2017 onwards. The other is dependent on an embedded SIM being in the vehicle, which limits it to all Ranger and Raptor models that roll out of the factory floor from February 2021 onwards.
For now then, the number of users will likely be small, especially as the app itself is free to download, but does require broadband connectivity to operate and will therefore necessitate data being in place.
Moving forward Ford South Africa will at other models, or nameplates as it refers to them, that will get access to FordPass. There aren’t any strict criteria in this regard, with the company telling us that the likes of the Ford Fiesta, Figo and Mustang aren’t getting access anytime soon.
It isn’t a case of what is manufactured locally either, as we had thought it was, with Ford South Africa confirming that while ICASA certification is needed for the eSIM, it can be done for both locally manufactured and imported vehicles too.
As for what else Ford South Africa is planning in future, it says that it’s looking at all options. The fact that you can add an unlimited number of profiles onto one vehicle for example, opens up the option to move to a subscription-based car ownership model, which other luxury car brands have tested out overseas. Another option is fleet management, with Ranger models in particular being fixtures on construction sites, being used by wildlife organisations and emergency services as well.
Ford is also enhancing its relationship with Google, which means the software backbone that runs systems like FordPass and Sync (its in-car infotainment solution) will be better aligned to the Google ecosystem, including Maps, Play Store, Assistant and Android.
Also alluded to, by still some ways off, is autonomous driving technology, with the Google-owned Waymo likely playing a role here.
“As Ford continues the most profound transformation in our history with electrification, connectivity and self-driving, Google and Ford coming together establishes an innovation powerhouse truly able to deliver a superior experience for our customers and modernize our business,” noted president and CEO of Ford, Jim Farley, in an announcement last month.
“Our adoption of advanced technologies is being accelerated by extensive investment in autonomous and electric vehicles. This is carried through to our manufacturing operations, most notably following the recent announcement of Ford’s R15.8-billion investment in high-tech upgrades and new automated facilities at the Silverton Assembly Plant for the next-generation Ranger, which we expect to once again set the benchmark in its segment,” adds Hill.
There is still plenty that needs aligning before Ford expands the functionality and capabilities of its FordPass Connect platform, but the company is gearing itself toward being more agile and responding where opportunity presents itself.