DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. has a new solution to an old problem: How to get your car from a service shop before or after regular business hours.
The automaker, in partnership with Panasonic and GoMoto, created the Smart Service Kiosk and is testing it at LaFontaine Ford of Birch Run, in Michigan. The ATM-like device allows customers to request oil changes, alignments, transmission work or other services; drop off their keys in a secure storage bin; retrieve keys for a rental car; and pay for service work, all from the device’s touch screen.
The kiosk is available 24/7, eliminating the need for customers to rush to a dealership before, during or after work to drop off their vehicle in time.
“The benefit is convenience,” said Don Conroy, Ford’s manager of global market representation and service capacity. “You’re not restricted to the dealer’s operating hours to make a transaction.”
Most dealers already have a way for customers to drop off their cars: a rudimentary “night box” in which customers can leave keys inside envelopes. But there’s no way to pick up the vehicle when it’s ready or remotely pay for the services.
“It really hasn’t been something that’s evolved with the rest of technology consumers use on a regular basis,” Conroy said.
The kiosk allows customers to enter their information manually or scan their driver’s license and input an email address and phone number to get started.
From there, each customer is given a PIN and can choose from a number of services. There’s space to enter specific requests or problems.
When the vehicle is ready for pickup, the customer must input the PIN, scan a QR code provided by email and pay the bill to retrieve their keys.
Conroy said the kiosk has ATM-level security. It’s bolted down, has a camera to identify anyone using it and is equipped with an alarm system should someone try to move it.
“It would be very difficult to get away with anything involving this equipment,” Conroy said.
Ford started testing the kiosk at LaFontaine Ford in January as part of a 90-day trial. Conroy said it likely will extend the trial period and could implement the kiosk at more locations.
Ultimately, if customers and dealers respond positively, Ford said it could add the machines at dealerships around the world.
“It does have global implementation possibilities,” Conroy said.
Ford would not discuss the price of the kiosk.
Daren Kinder, service manager at Lafontaine Ford, said he’d “absolutely” recommend that Ford keep the machine long term. He said it’s been easy to use by both the staff and the public.
“It’s so straightforward,” he said. “The simplicity and ease of use is a huge advantage for us.
Customer feedback has been positive, Kinder said. Roughly 15 people have used the kiosk, tripling the number of drop-offs using the old night box system.
“We haven’t had anyone have a negative comment,” he said.