February 6, 2008 in City

Ford pickups go high-tech with dashboard internet

Dee-ann Durbin Associated Press
Associated Press photo

In a photo provided by Ford Motor Co., an in-dash computer is shown in use. The automaker will offer the in-dash computer with high-speed Internet access and a battery-powered inkjet printer on its F-150 pickups and commercial vans. Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

CHICAGO – Ford Motor Co. soon will offer an in-dash computer with high-speed Internet access and a battery-powered inkjet printer on its F-150 pickups and commercial vans.

Ford’s Work Solutions package also includes a radio-controlled tool tracking device, a computerized management system to help workers keep track of their vehicle fleets and a lockable storage system for pickup beds. The automaker unveiled the package this week at the Chicago Auto Show.

The features will be available together or separately, Ford spokesman Alan Hall said. Pricing hasn’t been released.

Ford, which commands 40 percent of the U.S. commercial vehicle market, says 35 percent of its F-150s are sold to commercial customers. It’s aiming to maintain that lead with the new suite of gadgets that will be available on the 2009 F-150 this summer. The package will also be available on E-series vans and the Transit Connect commercial van, which also will be introduced in Chicago and will come to North America in 2009.

The factory-installed Work Solutions package includes an in-dash computer with a 6.5-inch touch screen powered by Microsoft Windows CE and Windows Autos. It connects to the Internet via Sprint cellular broadband and is compatible with Bluetooth-enabled phones.

The Tool Link system lets owners mark and scan tools using a radio tag. When the vehicle starts, a pair of antennas mounted on the inside of the truck will scan the vehicle for the items on a preprogrammed inventory list and display the contents on the in-dash computer.

“Think of Tool Link as no tool left behind,” said Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas.

The vehicle management system pinpoints the location of vehicles and keeps track of maintenance. It also can check tire pressures and diagnose engine problems if the check-engine light flashes.

Workers can lock valuables in the pickup bed using a retractable steel cable.

It’s Ford’s answer to the 2009 Dodge Ram, which will have a lockable storage container mounted into the sides of the pickup when it arrives later this year.

“Theft is something the customer doesn’t have to worry about” with the cable, Fields said.

The Work Solutions package resulted from Ford watching customers at job sites and looking to find solutions to unmet needs, said Derrick Kuzak, head of global product development.

Ford hopes the new tools will help the F-150 maintain its leadership position in the market despite strong competition from Dodge as well as the Toyota Tundra and Chevrolet Silverado, which were redesigned for 2007. New features could also spark sales in a segment that has seen steep declines as new home construction has fallen off.

U.S. pickup sales were down 6 percent in 2007, compared with a 3 percent drop in vehicle sales industrywide. Consumers bought 2.2 million full-size pickups, down from a peak of 2.5 million in 2004, when the last redesigned F-150 was introduced.

The Chicago Auto Show opens to the public Friday after two days of media previews.

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