Yesterday at my meeting with Ford executives in Irvine, Calif., I heard about Ford’s new direction in bringing small, quality cars to the American market by leveraging the company’s current European models and intelligencia. Concentrating on small cars, however, seemed like one half of Ford’s success equation. So, what was the other half? SYNC.
Oddly enough, Ford execs believe their Microsoft-powered SYNC technology is driving car sales. Tom Hodges, who heads up Ford’s SYNC and digital marketing, says the automotive industry is evolving more into being about a lifestyle rather than just a vehicle. “(Ford) is trying to merge critical environmental and lifestyle issues,” says Hodges.
In fact, Hodges says Ford’s SYNC-equipped vehicles are selling at twice the rate as vehicles not equipped with this $395 option. “Today, it’s all about smart tech,” explains Hodges.
So, what is SYNC? Imagine taking your Bluetooth-enabled cell phone, MP3 player and other mobile devices into your car and then “syncing” them all up with a built-in voice command system. That’s SYNC in a nutshell.
Recently, I road tested both the 2008 Ford Focus and the 2009 Ford Flex, both of which included SYNC. In a real life situation, I found the system rather challenging. The problem is SYNC only works well with certain mobile device manufacturers. My Palm Treo and my teenage daughter’s iPhone, unfortunately, weren’t super compatible with SYNC, although I could perform basic functions.
Around the lunch table yesterday, Ford execs said they were aware of this problem. And, they all said Microsoft is working on this glitch with all of the major mobile device manufacturers. What does this mean to potential SYNC buyers? To get the best working system with SYNC, you may have to change or upgrade your mobile phone.
Starting Nov. 3 through Dec. 1, Ford is launching its second generation SYNC system on 19 vehicles. The second generation SYNC offers two new features: vehicle health report and 911 assist.
The vehicle health report feature is pretty cool, actually. Through Ford’s customizable www.syncmyride.com website, information from the car’s many computerized systems are uploaded via SYNC’s wireless connection to your car’s personal web page. (Yes, your car has its own web page with SYNC!)
The data uploaded from your vehicle to the SYNC site will inform vehicle owners of recalls and scheduled maintenance as well as any problems with the engine, transmission, emissions, restraints, fluids and filters. And, car owners will have the ability to schedule maintenance with their favorite dealership with just one click. “Ultimately,” says Hodges, “this means your car can communicate with the world.”
SYNC’s 911 Assist is much like GM’s OnStar. When the air bags are deployed or a fuel line is severed in an accident, SYNC notifies emergency personnel and opens the voice channel for the driver and passengers to talk to emergency workers via the car’s speakerphone.
The third generation SYNC, says Hodges, will combine all-new hardware and software with a GPS tracking system, allowing users to interface directly with traffic reports, directions and infotainment services.
Hodges says one reason SYNC has been so well received is that Ford has extensively trained dealership personnel. “We now have SYNC experts in each and every Ford dealership,” he says.