Starting with its Sync system a decade ago, Ford was ahead of the curve with connecting cars to the cloud. But only with a tethered phone, and the automaker was slow to add embedded connectivity via an in-car modem, only doing so across most of its models just over a year ago.
But owners of Ford and Lincoln vehicles from the 2010 to 2016 model years will soon be able to retroactively add connectivity using a smartphone app or the Web via a new system called SmartLink to access a range of features that weren’t available when they bought their car, truck or SUV . These include remote door locking and unlocking, engine starting, vehicle location, maintenance notifications and security alerts. SmartLink will also provide an in-car Wi-Fi hot spot that can support up to eight devices.
To bring this connectivity to older vehicles, Ford is partnering with Verizon Telematics and Delphi Automotive, and taking a page out of the playbook of suppliers of aftermarket ODB-II “dongles” such as Vinli and Verizon’s own Hum product. SmartLink consists of a 4G LTE-enabled dongle that plugs into a car’s OBD-II port that allows a car’s onboard computer to connect to diagnostic equipment for service.
While ODB-II dongles have created an entire aftermarket connected car cottage industry and SmartLink-like features are available on many new vehicles, Ford is the first major automaker to offer retroactive connectivity to its customers. SmartLink will be available through Ford and Lincoln dealers and has the ability to schedule service through dealerships. SmartLink will be available starting this summer, with pricing to be announced closer to launch, according to Ford.
“Offering [SmartLink] through our dealerships is another way to keep us connected with our customers and earn their loyalty,” Stephen Odell, executive vice president of Global Marketing, Sales and Service for Ford, said in a statement. And it also allows Ford to amass a larger pool of connected cars and potentially more revenue and keep dealers happy by giving them a slice of the pie.