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Ford puts AppLink platform at forefront of Asia-Pacific push

The Dearborn, MI, automaker will roll out its Mustang coupe ? with a complete redesign that includes Ford?s AppLink platform allowing drivers to operate mobile apps through voice commands ? in Taiwan, New Zealand and Thailand for the 2015 model year. An AppLink-equipped Mustang was on view at last week?s Computex conference in Taipei, Asia?s largest information and communication-tech expo.

?Ford was one of the automakers that saw early the huge competitive advantage of having this connectivity in the car,? said Doug Newcomb, an automotive journalist based in Portland, OR. ?The Mustang is such an iconic American brand as opposed to a Focus or a Fusion, that it gets attention from people and the press,? he said.

Building on SYNC
AppLink, launched by Ford earlier this year in China, Australia and India, is the next generation of Ford?s seven-year-old SYNC in-vehicle communications and entertainment system that allows users to make hands-free telephone calls, control music and perform other functions with the use of voice commands.

The system works with platforms no earlier than Android OS 2.1, BlackBerry OS 5.0 or iPhone 3GS with iOS 4.1, iPhone 4 with iOS 4.2 or iPhone 5 with iOS 4.3. Compatible applications across all platforms include Pandora Internet Radio. Android-supported apps include Rhapsody and compatible BlackBerry apps include Slacker Personal Radio. Compatible iPhone applications include At Bat, NPR News, Spotify and TuneIn Radio.

?Connected-car? interest is growing quickly among automakers and brands. In January, a Nielsen report found that about one in five drivers aware of connected cars is already driving one of them ? and that number is expected to swell as automakers continue to introduce the new tech into more and more models.

Although Ford has used mobile advertising campaigns in the past, to unveil a new model, for instance, it has been less active with applications. In November, Ford?s Detroit-based digital marketing manager Trisha Habucke told the Mobile Women to Watch 2014 Summit in New York that Ford?s increased emphasis on improving owners? driving experiences would spark a harder push into the app market (see story).

Pony cars
Ford?s choice of the Mustang pairs a car originally introduced at the 1964 New York World?s Fair with 21st century mobile technology. Based on the Ford Falcon compact car, the Mustang ? which created the ?pony class? of sports car-like coupes with long hoods and short rear decks ? was Ford?s most successful launch since the Model A. It has seen several redesigns to its current fifth generation, but remains extremely popular with car enthusiasts, a group that includes former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Nine million Mustangs have been produced since the car?s introduction 50 years ago, Ford said.

The latest edition of the Mustang adjusts the car's speed automatically to keep a safe distance from vehicles in front and can boost brakes if it anticipates a collision. Drivers can also set modes to normal, snow-wet, sport or track.

Asia-Pacific focus 
Ford?s pursuit of sales in the Asia-Pacific region comes as increasingly prosperous nations such as China embrace car ownership, helping China to overtake the U.S. as the world?s largest automotive market by sales in 2009. Ford?s Detroit rival, General Motors Co, for instance, now sells more vehicles in China than in the U.S.

In Taiwan, Ford also will introduce Emergency Assistance technology that can connect vehicle occupants to emergency responders in an accident and provide emergency operators with GPS location details, the automaker said.

Technology and distracted drivers
Ford is hoping its AppLink software changes the conversation about technology distracting drivers. Distracted driving is blamed for causing more than 3,300 U.S. deaths in 2012, according to latest available statistics. Although studies show that hands-free devices also distract motorists, 80 percent still reported in surveys that they believe hands-free driving is safer.

?Driver distraction is a big issue, with people saying shouldn?t you be driving rather than checking out apps?? Mr. Newcomb said. ?Ford is saying: ?We?re allowing people to do that with their hands on the wheel.??

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York