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Ford Technology Leaps Ahead

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author photo by Jean Halliday June 2011

At a half-day press event near its headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., Ford announced that it would expand its factory-installed Sync AppLink to additional models in the 2012 model year. AppLink will be standard in the 2012 Ford F-150, SuperDuty, Fusion, Expedition, Shelby GT500 and E-Series full-size passenger van.

AppLink debuted in late 2010 on the 2011 Fiesta. Ford had already announced that it would be standard on the 2012 Mustang.

The AppLink software allows motorists to integrate the apps they have downloaded to their smart phones into the Sync system. For example, if a Fiesta owner downloaded the popular Pandora internet radio app to their smart phone, they can listen to it in their car.

Consumers have downloaded more than 24 million apps from Apple's App Store since 2008, Ford said.

The Sync AppLink can be integrated into Ford's optional voice-activated navigation system on the 2012 models.

Since its arrival in 2007, Sync has been installed in three million Ford vehicles, said Mark Fields, president of the Americas.

The more sophisticated second-generation version of Sync arrived nearly a year ago under the names MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch, debuting on the 2011 model Ford Edge and platform-mate MKX. But Consumer Reports panned the systems as too complicated and distracting.

Fields, speaking at Ford's press announcement, acknowledged "clearly customers needed more training on My Ford Touch," so dealers started training classes for owners early this year.

Ford also introduced a software upgrade to the system in February. Field said 85% of Sync customers say it's easy to use and 80% would recommend it to others.

Ford has been rebuilding its image since 2006 on the four main pillars of safety, smart, green and quality. To that end it announced that next summer it would start offering its rear, inflatable seat belts as an option in the Ford Flex and two undisclosed Lincoln models. The industry-first option "is designed to help reduce head, neck and chest injuries for rear-seat passengers, often children and older passengers who can be more vulnerable to such injuries," said Susan Cischke, the group vice president overseeing safety at Ford.

The rear, inflatable seat belts bowed on the new Explorer in the spring and early data found that roughly 40% of Explorer buyers are parents ordering the option, said Amy Marentic, car and crossover marketing manager.

The automaker also announced that it would increase and thicken the size of the word fonts by up to 40% on many interior controls of the Ford Edge and Explorer next year and then roll it out to other models. Ford said the change would make the displays easier to read for people of all ages, but mainly Baby Boomers.

Ford gave reporters a peak under the tent at research projects they are studying for potential future vehicle use,

They include:

  • A six-month-old partnership with SDI Health for its Pollen.com system that helps the nation's 60-million-plus allergy sufferers check local pollen levels. Gary Strumolo global manager of infotronics at Ford Research, said possible in-vehicle uses include allergy alerts via Sync and asking Sync for the healthiest route to drive.
  • A partnership with Medronic, which sells a Bluetooth-enabled device that constantly measures glucose levels for diabetics. Drivers or their passengers wearing the device could get audible alerts or displays via Sync about level changes.
  • A two-year alliance of Ford's research engineers in Germany with Aachen University on a car seat that monitors a driver's heart activity. Six sensors on the back of the seat measure the heart through clothing. Ford's Ranier Vogt, the group leader on the project, said the technology could offer in-vehicle solutions when detecting high stress levels, such as soft music or pushing phone calls directly to voicemail.

David Watson, a research engineer at the automaker, explained why Ford is looking at the various systems. "Our interest is what do people care about when they're in their car? What's relevant to them?"

But Watson stressed that at least for now, all of these ideas are "just research."

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Ford Technology Leaps Ahead - Autotrader