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SYNC Helps Maintenance in Admin Vehicles

Written by Robert Musial

An innovative electronic system revolutionizing in-car communication and entertainment is about to get even better. It’s all part of the added functionality coming later this year to the Ford SYNC™ system. This will include upgrades that will provide free vehicle health (maintenance) reports and will directly connect occupants to 9-1-1 operators in the event of a crash.

Launched on 12 Ford cars and trucks in the fall of 2007, SYNC allows for the voice-activated, hands-free use of mobile phones and digital media players by drivers and passengers. Developed in partnership with Microsoft, the feature has won kudos from the electronics and automotive press, not to mention major awards from the annual Consumer Electronics Show and such publications as Popular Mechanics.

For the 2009 model year, Ford will add more to its SYNC system, including an upgrade that contacts 9-1-1 emergency operators directly in the case of an airbag deployment. Another new function will allow owners, including fleet operators, to quickly monitor the health of a SYNC-equipped vehicle, communicating everything from low tire pressure to excessive engine operating temperatures. Both new features, which will be provided with no monthly fees, should be a boon to drivers and owners.

“In the fleet industry, driver safety is the number one priority. The hands-free connectivity of SYNC is already a great assist in reducing driver distraction,” said John Felice, the director of Ford’s North American Fleet, Leasing and Remarketing Organization. “The added functionality coming later this year, including ‘9-1-1 Assist,’ will provide even greater value to our fleet customers.

“Additionally, the ‘vehicle health reports’ will provide fleet managers with valuable information to manage vehicle maintenance, saving time and money,” Felice said. The vehicle health reports will be able to be obtained in a matter of minutes at any time, with the results being provided quickly to customers.

Lieutenant David “Doc” Halliday of the Michigan State Police said SYNC’s new functions should find a receptive audience.

“I would think that would really help fleet managers. If it helps vehicles run smoother and safer, that’s where it will really make its mark,” said Halliday, who runs a nationally recognized program that tests various police vehicles each year and publishes the results.

Also intrigued by SYNC’s upgrades is Lietenant Brad Bernhardt, the highway equipment director of the Kansas Highway Patrol, which has 800 vehicles in its fleet. “If there’s no fees involved (for the health reports), I think that would be very attractive. That would have a lot of value to fleet managers.”

Once the relevant data is gathered, it will automatically be sent to Ford via a toll-free 800 number using the customer’s paired mobile phone. In some vehicles, the information will include a routine check of more than two dozen vehicle systems. Any information deemed critical to vehicle safety or performance will be forwarded quickly to the customer by phone or text message. Examples of such critical data range from excessive engine operating temperatures to low tire pressure.

Low tires might not seem as critical as an engine that’s running hot, but under-inflation can lead to prematurely worn tires with the added time and expense of replacing them. Under-inflation also reduces gas mileage and drivability. “Sometimes, drivers can overlook things and maintenance can fall to the side. If ignored, that can lead to other problems, so it’s essential to catch it early,” Bernhardt said.

When a user’s mobile phone is paired and connected to SYNC, which happens automatically each time the driver enters the vehicle, the system will be ready to place a call to a local 9-1-1 operator in the event the airbags are deployed. That ability to get through to the local 9-1-1 emergency operator directly may be a critical need, for both those in the vehicle and for first responders. If occupants are unresponsive after a crash, the location of the vehicle can even be determined through voice-signal triangulation or, on some phones, the GPS locator feature.

Currently, SYNC is available on the Ford Explorer, Taurus, Fusion, Edge, Focus and Taurus X as well as some Mercury and Lincoln cars, crossovers and SUVs. Later this year, SYNC will also become available on the F-150, Expedition, Escape and Escape Hybrid as well as additional Mercury and Lincoln vehicles. The SYNC system is also designed to be easily updated at the dealership as new features become available in the future.

Robert Musial is with Ford Communications.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Mar/Apr 2008

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