Ford’s Dave Phatak is getting ready to roll out two telematics products in Germany and the UK in the first half of 2019 (Photo: Ford)

Ford Motor plans to offer connectivity on all its cars in Europe from 2020, but today already, the carmaker is getting ready to launch two connected services in the region.

Ford announced at the IAA commercial vehicle show in Hanover last September that it would be offering two products in the first half of 2019: Ford Telematics, which would connect Ford brand vehicles to a web-based portal that can be operated by fleet managers; and Ford Data Services, which provides similar access to vehicle data but allows customers to plug that data into their own or third-party telematics systems.

For the past year, Ford has been testing its telematics products in Europe ahead of an official rollout in the UK and Germany in the first half of 2019. More than 50,000 vehicles are participating in the tests.

Fleet managers are keenly interested in vehicle data that will help them use their fleets more efficiently. Data can be used to reduce downtime, make sure maintenance schedules are maintained and other efficiency-enhancing measures.

Dave Phatak, director of Ford Commercial Solutions Europe, said customer feedback yielded some clear insights on how fleet managers actually operate a connected fleet. “They do not want to be overwhelmed with data,” Phatak said in a phone interview with automotiveIT International. “Vehicles can generate huge amounts of data with huge frequency, but they don’t want it all.”

Ford’s telematics operations are part of the Ford Smart Mobility division, which is at the heart of the company’s strategy to expand beyond the carmaker’s traditional business of building and selling cars and offer software and mobility services.

“It’s all about better serving the customer,” said Phatak, adding that this is the driving force behind Ford’s intention to connect all of its vehicles globally.

Two options

Customer satisfaction is also behind the company’s decision to build both a proprietary system and to allow third-party telematics service providers access to Ford-brand vehicle data.

“Our approach is very much based on freedom of choice, “ Phatak said. “If they want to use Ford Telematics, we connect them with that, but if they want to use a third-party telematics provider, we offer a high-grade clean data API.”

Once Ford goes live with its two telematics products in Europe, it expects more people to opt for the data feed and the third-party service provider. These providers will get more data from the Ford-engineered system than they currently get through modems connected to cars’ OBD 2 ports.

“Our device is installed slightly upstream of the OBD 2 port,” said Phatak. “If you obtain the data that way, you get 100s or 1,000s of signals you wouldn’t get through the OBD 2 port.” An example is seatbelt usage but there is a wealth of other car information that isn’t available through OBD 2. “That’s a win-win for both the service provider and the customer,” Phatak said.

Ford is still in the early stages of development in telematics, but the company recognizes the potential. “We are at beginning of the journey and will eventually take connectivity to another level,” Phatak said. “The data offers considerable further possibilities.”

Those possibilities will grow even more once cars and commercial vehicles enter the autonomous era. That may be a while, but Ford sees connectivity as key in the development.

“What is the absolute prerequisite for an autonomous fleet?” asked Phatak. “Connectivity.” And he added: “What we are building today enables us to go on our own journey to autonomous vehicles.”