Ford has launched FordPass, an Android and iOS app that combines a variety of functions for owners of its vehicles and non-customers alike, if Ford's plans come to fruition.
“What we want to build, and we are going to build, is a marketplace for mobility solutions,” Ford consumer experience marketing head Jörg Ullrich tells Mobile Marketing. “Today our core business is all about selling vehicles, but we believe the whole industry will move more strongly into consumers' general mobility needs which don't necessarily require a vehicle at all times. Vehicle sharing is only going to increase – the numbers prove that is going to happen – so for us it's key to build a whole ecosystem which is first of all tied to our vehicles, but also extends beyond the customers we have today to non-Ford owners.”
Pulling up in the US now, with a European launch planned for later this year, FordPass isn't the automaker's first app, by a long shot – but based on what Ullrich tells me, it may just be its last.
FordPass centres around a 'My Vehicles' feature which lets drivers add their car to the app – in certain cases, by scanning a barcode in the car – to see basic model details, colour and when it was purchased, as well as monitor how many miles are on the clock and the current fuel level. Any product recalls will also be pushed out to drivers via the app.
More exciting is the ability to use FordPass as a digital key which can remotely lock and unlock the vehicle, and even start the engine. This is only compatible with cars that have a modem functionality – at time of writing, limited to the 2017 Escape model in the US – but it's a signpost to Ford's intentions.
“Right now, this might just seem like a nice feature to have,” he says. “But if you think about the future, as more people are sharing and exchanging their vehicles, that information becomes very important. In any car share, 'how do you get the key?' is always the one of the biggest issues, but now you can simply choose who has permission to access this digital key.”
The 2017 Ford Escape is the only vehicle to currently support mobile keys
On top of that, Ford is integrating everything from parking functionality – enabling drivers to save a map and photos of where they parked – to its existing car sharing apps, like the one it currently operates with Deutsche Bahn in Germany. It will be pulling features from a number of pre-existing Ford apps, which will be shuttered after a 'transitional phase'.
That's a lot of functionality to cram into a single app – though the plan is to ameliorate this by letting users sort and hide features based on their own priorities – but that's exactly the point of Ford's approach, which Ullrich describes as “multimodal”.
“We have already existing apps out there which we are trying to pool together, and make into one app rather than a cluster of apps on your phone,” he says. “We currently have a service app just for online service booking but how often do you book a service in a year? Maybe once – is it worth having an app for that alone?
“The car sharing app, you might use more frequently, but if you could add more content to it, it actually would be more valuable to keep that app on your device, rather than having those all divided functionalities out there which makes it very messy.”
Loyalty and beyond
The other half of Ford's strategy to retain FordPass users – and to attract them in the first place – is a loyalty program. Set to launch later this year in the US, and sometime next year in Europe, it will be the brand's first-ever global loyalty scheme, and it's probably the biggest way Ford is hoping to tie up all the disparate parts of FordPass.
Points can be collected through anything from buying a vehicle to filling up the tank at a partnered BP garage, or booking a parking space or car share through the app. These can then be redeemed against traditional Ford services – a free oil change or a winter check with free windshield wipers – or just about anything available in the app. Ullrich points to the opportunities for “packaging up” services: “If you use the parking with the car sharing vehicle, we might offer you the parking for free.”
Of course, each of these elements is a new potential revenue source for Ford. Ullrich describes FordPass as a 'mobility marketplace' that goes well beyond cars – train ticket booking and cycling hire are just two possibilities he mentions.
“Our core business right now is selling vehicles, but we want to get into that emerging business and build it slowly but steadily,” Ullrich says. “It's not going to happen overnight, but there's a lot of those little things which tie together. Car sharing, parking tickets, gas stations – if you add all those revenue streams together there's a lot of business out there that we're not even touching at the moment.”
It's strange to think of a company that has always relied on big-ticket purchases even bothering with these relative small chunks of revenue. By way of explanation, Ullrich draws an interesting comparison with Apple:
“With iTunes, nobody understood why Apple was getting into the music business, but it was just the first content for their existing physical hardware product. Nowadays, as well as making money by selling iPhones, it's just as much about the other side, the services, for Apple – and you can make the comparison with our vehicles.”
He's not wrong about Apple's services business, as the company's quarterly results showed earlier this week
. Whether Ford can pull off the same trick remains to be seen, but Ullrich is confident that the firm is in this for the long term.
“It's not something we want to throw in the market and it's then done and baked,” he says. “That's quite interesting for us as an automotive company. We are used to launching a vehicle which has to be perfect from day one when it hits the production line – but the app is very different. It has to be an evolving product.”