DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. is testing a new way that shoppers browsing on a dealership lot can learn about the vehicles they're looking at.
Ford is demonstrating the technology, which it developed in conjunction with Cisco Systems, on an F-150 at the Detroit auto show. The truck has 11 asymmetrically shaped beacons on it, with each programmed to highlight one of its features.
Bluetooth-capable "beacons" placed on the vehicles can automatically transmit information to be displayed on a shopper's smartphone. The consumer only needs to connect to the dealership's wireless network, and the information can be shown either through the phone's Web browser or via an app.
Unlike some other methods of communicating with a shopper's phone, such as scannable QR codes on window stickers, the beacons can be configured to highlight specific features of the vehicle as the phone is moved near them.
Ford plans to begin a pilot study of the beacons in the spring at five Ford dealerships and three Lincoln stores. Among the variables being evaluated is whether the beacons would work best hidden -- under the hood, behind the grille or inside a wheel well, for example -- or if they should be visible so consumers are more aware that they're there.
"It lets me shop at my own pace, and I think that's the way that dealerships have to go now," said Akshay Anand, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book's KBB.com. "People may not want to work with a salesperson right away, and that's a great alternative."