Merchant Innovation

When Your Car Company Becomes Your Wallet

FordPass is exactly like what it sounds – the automotive manufacturer’s foray into the world of payments. Well, more correctly, commerce. Jim Buczkowski, Ford’s Director of Electrical and Electronics systems, tells Karen Webster why Ford views FordPass as less of a wallet and more of an onramp to their shift to becoming a mobility company.

Ford is soon launching its new FordPass platform that, according to the company’s website, comes with a pretty big ambition: to “empower” consumers to “rethink the way [they] move.”

And not through fancy new cars with 435 horses under the hood, but instead “through a collection of personal, digital and physical solutions.”

FordPass is an app-based platform intended to assist users with mobility, through a series of solutions for everything from parking to unlocking a user’s car and diagnosing service issues to providing real-time, live guidance.

While early phase rollouts are known to wither amidst hype or unreasonable expectations, FordPass is still in pre-game mode, and prior to kickoff is hoping to be the small step toward the giant leap that Ford hopes mainstream automakers in general will be inspired to take.

In advance of the initial consumer launch of FordPass, Karen Webster caught up with Jim Buczkowski, Ford’s Director of Electrical and Electronics Systems, to talk about the solution and the company’s even loftier ambition to evolve from a venerable automaker to a “mobility company.”

As Buczkowski explains it, “What we want to accomplish with FordPass is really related to touch points and having relationships with consumers.”

The motivation is the parallel shift to meet evolving consumer needs and expectations, moving Ford from an automotive company to a mobility company.

“And with that comes, Buczkowski says, the responsibility to “engage the consumer and really satisfy their mobility needs.”

For Ford, finding answers to these questions has pushed the company to look, surprisingly, beyond automotive as the only mobility solution relevant to what they produce. Ultimately, the company envisions the FordPass platform as being “a way to connect with customers all the time,” Buczkowski said.

Magic 8-Ball Says, The Future Will Be … Seamless

Like many companies attempting to be on the forefront of technological advancement, inspiration is often found outside the periphery of the industry itself. Buczkowski, for one, cites his preferred Starbucks coffee ritual as a source of mobility revelation. “I tell everybody I love ordering it ahead of time, going to the output counter and just picking my stuff up and never pulling anything out of my pocket,” he said. “No having to wait in line – not even having to barcode read anything – it’s just paid for.”

It’s this kind of “seamless, multifaceted journey,” as Buczkowski explains it, that he’s looking at to help create an all-encompassing journey experience for Ford. “Whether it’s paying for use of a vehicle, then paying for parking, and paying for other services that are part of that experience,” he said. He also acknowledged that this journey can involve trains and bicycles and buses, among other modes of transportation – and they need to be figured into the mobility solution as well. “We do think that, to be a mobility company, you have to enable experiences across all of those, not just enable the experience of car ownership,” he said.

For FordPass, Ford has partnered with companies including ParkWhiz and Parkopedia, as well as FlightCar, to fortify the solution with existing technology, rather than creating and integrating their own solutions, which users wouldn’t previously be familiar with. And FordPass members do not need to actually own a Ford vehicle. If you are a FordPass member with a Ford vehicle, Buczkowski said, there will be integrations into the vehicle itself, “especially as it relates to journey planning or service of your vehicle,” he said. But a FordPass member doesn’t need to drive a Ford to “be able to enjoy mobility services, mobility experiences, journey planning and so on that may occur outside the vehicle,” he explained.

Take those parking payments, for instance.

“We want everything to be knit together, and payments is an important part of that.” — Jim Buczkowski, Ford’s Director of Electrical and Electronics Systems

With FordPass, the company wants to help make the experience seamless. With all the different parking apps available, something that is intended to make paying for parking simpler for people has unintentionally become complicated. “If I don’t have that app, do I want to download it for this one experience?” Buczkowski said. “Wherever I park I just want to be able to pay for it.” With FordPass, he said, the aim is to house all the individual experiences with individual companies within the platform itself. “We want everything to be knit together, and payments is an important part of that,” he said.

FordPass payments aren’t limited to parking. The company recognizes that auto ownership (as a loose term) is also ever-evolving, for instance with shared and flexible ownerships and leases becoming increasingly popular. “It’s key that Ford, and FordPass specifically, have a way through FordPay to be able to have that seamless experience,” Buczkowski said.

Another FordPass offering is FordGuides, which will be real-life, real-time mobility assistance. “It’s a person that you can talk to that will help you with your mobility needs,” Buczkowski explained. Additionally, FordHubs, or storefronts, will start to appear later this year (the first will open in New York), he said. The company’s website touts FordHubs as locations where visitors can “experience easier ways to move today,” while also considering “what a smarter way to move could mean for you tomorrow.”

Think of it as AAA meets mobile meets mobility via FordPass.

Down The Road … Alexa As Your Co-Pilot?

While Amazon’s Alexa is not part of the initial FordPass release, the voice-activated assistant is full of possibilities for Ford. Earlier this year, Ford demonstrated a proof of concept, integrating Alexa with Ford Sync (the company’s in-vehicle command center) at CES. “There are a lot of things that we are excited about in the Amazon Alexa experience, relative to integrating the vehicle to the home and the home back to the vehicle,” he said.

“Alexa is a great ecosystem as well,” Buczkowski said. “We’re excited about the fact that the skills are continuing to grow. In the short-term, we’ll be doing some things with Amazon and Alexa later this year,” he said.

Embracing the reality that people are using, buying and paying for cars (if they buy them at all) differently today than they were in previous generations and that surviving, let alone thriving, is why Ford is willingly throwing itself into uncharted waters. Waters that Buczkowski acknowledges could be choppy for automakers that do not acknowledge and adapt to the changing landscape.

“We’re looking beyond just car ownership,” Buczkowski said. “Cars are a form of transportation – whether you own them or not, they get you from point A to point B – and as a mobility company, that’s what we’re interested in.”

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