DETROIT -- In addition to space in the garage, Ford Motor Co. wants a spot on consumers’ smartphone screens. And it wants to promote its new types of mobility services in major shopping malls.
In April, the automaker plans to launch a platform called FordPass that gives users the ability to reserve parking, pay for transportation costs through their vehicle or phone, earn rewards and call a “FordGuide” for free help reaching destinations. It is announcing FordPass, as well as partnerships with McDonald’s, 7-Eleven, ParkWhiz and other companies that are part of the platform, at the Detroit auto show today.
FordPass is an ambitious piece of CEO Mark Fields’ effort to refashion the 112-year-old manufacturer as a mobility company and build customer loyalty amid challenges from ride-hailing and car-sharing services. In a statement, Ford said it “aims to do for car owners what iTunes did for music fans.”
After buying a vehicle, executives say, most people spend about four hours a year at a dealership, often for repairs or other reasons they don’t enjoy. With FordPass, the company hopes to connect more directly with customers -- and ideally, noncustomers -- during the hundreds of hours they spend in their vehicles and help them get around.
“The idea is to build a long-lasting relationship with customers,” said Elena Ford, the company’s vice president for global dealer and consumer experience.
The automaker also wants to try another method of reaching consumers, by creating spaces in shopping malls to experience new technology, learn about its vehicles and explore transportation options.
It plans to open a “mobility experience center” called FordHub this summer in New York’s Westfield World Trade Center mall, which is nearing completion. More will open later in San Francisco, London and Shanghai, Ford said.
FordHubs would be smaller than most dealership showrooms -- the New York one is 2,500 square feet -- and set up as no-pressure environments where no sales take place.
Any prospective buyers would be referred to a dealer, said Stephen Odell, Ford’s vice president for global marketing, sales and service.
“We’re not trying to usurp the dealer interface,” Odell said. He said malls are ideal locations for Ford to casually expose consumers to its offerings because “it’s where a lot of people go and have time to spend.”
Odell and Elena Ford said the company studied how numerous companies interact with consumers, including TripAdvisor, Amazon, Burberry, Nike and Tesla, as it developed FordPass. They said a key part of the effort is FordPass Perks, which will reward users with merchandise and experiences.