Ford turns back to Microsoft to build connected-car services

DETROIT (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co is turning to one of its early technology partners, Microsoft Corp, to help expand the automaker’s connected car services.

The Ford logo is pictured at the Ford Motor Co plant in Genk December 17, 2014. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Among the features that Ford plans to offer later this year through its new Service Delivery Network is the ability to automatically update its new Sync 3 infotainment system wirelessly. The service will run on Microsoft’s cloud-based Azure platform.

Ford’s cloud-based service will enable the company to gather more data about how owners use their vehicles, according to Don Butler, executive director of connected vehicle and services.

That data, Butler said, “will increase our ability to understand the user experience inside the vehicle . . . with the informed permission of customers.”

Butler said the vehicle data that Ford acquires wirelessly through the cloud could be used to remotely diagnose mechanical problems or alert owners and dealers on scheduled maintenance. It could also provide insurers with information about vehicle usage and owners’ driving habits.

Ford two years ago shifted from Microsoft to BlackBerry Ltd’s QNX to help it develop the software for Sync 3, after earlier versions of Sync and MyFord Touch, jointly developed with Microsoft, were troubled by technical glitches and widespread consumer complaints. The Sync 3 system, unveiled last December, will begin appearing this fall on some 2016 Ford models.

Ford’s cloud network also will enable the company to integrate a broader array of mobile services both inside and away from the vehicle, Butler said.

Where manufacturers in the past received much of their revenue from the sale or lease of vehicles, a rapidly evolving business model that encompasses such services as car sharing and pay-per-use rentals has expanded the definition of mobility, Butler said.

“There will be revenues associated with that,” he said, adding that third-party developers “may come up with new ways to leverage the data and create new opportunities to deliver services” to vehicle users.

Butler declined to say whether Ford is developing a concierge/communication service similar to General Motors Co’s OnStar. But he said Ford’s new partnership with Microsoft “positions us to be able to deliver a broad set of connectivity-related services.”

Ford is not the first automaker to use the Azure platform. Four years ago, Microsoft and Toyota Motor Corp announced a cloud-services partnership around Azure. And in 2013, a similar deal was struck with Qoros, a unit of China’s Chery Automobile Co [CHERY.UL].

Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit; Editing by Cynthia Osterman