Motor giant Ford is developing an app that will allow drivers to find and pay for parking, borrow or share vehicles, and which it promises will "do for car owners what iTunes did for music fans".
Ford said that for its FordPass app, launching in April, it is working with ParkWhiz to help drivers find and pay in advance for parking, and with FlightCar to help users share and borrow cars. Future services will include ride sharing, the company said.
The app will include a 'FordPay' digital wallet to make it easy to pay for these services. It will also feature a loyalty programme which, at launch, can be used at McDonald's and 7-Eleven stores "to reward FordPass members with merchandise and unique experiences".
The app is open to all, not just Ford owners, although drivers of Ford cars with the Sync communications system can also use the app to remotely start the car, lock and unlock it, check fuel, oil and battery charge levels and tire pressure readings and to locate their vehicle.
Drivers spend around 900 hours a year in their cars, which are increasingly connected computers on wheels. Motor manufacturers see this as a big opportunity to introduce new services that can boost customer loyalty and stave off the threat to their business from tech companies like Apple and Google.
For example, Ford has already revealed it is working on connecting its Sync to devices like Amazon Echo so drivers can control smart home systems, such as lighting, thermostats and security systems from their vehicles.
The new app also allows users access to 'FordGuides' - human assistants which Ford said can help resolve "mobility challenges, whether finding a more efficient way to get around or booking parking before reaching their destination".
The company said contacting the guides is free of charge: "For example, if a member decides he would like to book advance parking for an upcoming show but is unsure how to reserve it, one push of a button on his smartphone lands him in a live chat with a FordGuide who will lead him through the options and help to reserve parking".
Ford referenced Amazon "known for its popular on-demand Mayday button, which consumers can click to immediately be connected to a tech advisor", when explaining the evolution of its app.
The company said to complement the app it is opening FordHubs - showrooms with on-site FordGuides - in New York, London, Shanghai and San Francisco; the first of which will open later this year at New York's Westfield World Trade Center.
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