Fording the Digital Divide, and Upping the SLK Ante
By Jim Bray
A nifty enhancement to Ford Motor Company's "BuyerConnection" e-commerce
web site promises to up the ante on the traditional "build your own vehicle
Unfortunately, US consumers may never see this interesting new service currently
being test marketed in a couple of medium-sized Canadian centers.
The existing BuyerConnection Web site (www.buyerconnection.com and also accessible
- after much searching - from Ford's main site at www.ford.com) already gives
customers "control of their purchase experience," (Ford's terminology
as per a media release they sent me) providing surfers with the tools necessary
to research, select, and order a vehicle "anywhere, anytime."
The experimental, BuyerConnection 2000 Web site, however (I'd include the
Web address, but I'd have to shoot you afterward), includes some substantial
increases in functionality that are pretty cool.
When you first surf by, you're asked to choose from which Ford division you
want to build your car (Ford, Mercury, or Lincoln), the model desired, and
your Postal Code (so they can offer you a nearby dealer as your delivery point).
So I decided to "virtually build" a 2000 Lincoln LS. Hey, why not?
That choice took me to the "Build/Buy" section of the site, which
displayed the various permutations of the LS so I could customize my "cyber
purchase." After clicking on
"V6 Manual" (long live the gear shift!) I was whisked to a page that
showed the long list of standard equipment on that particular LS model.
The next screen showed the option packages available (I added the $860 "convenience
package"), and a couple of clicks later I was choosing the color I wanted
for my LS ("Deep Wedgewood Blue Clearcoat Metallic"). Subsequent
pages let me choose the trim color, type of audio system, and more esoteric
options like a hands free cellphone, heated seats and power moonroof (how do
you moon anyone through one of these things anyway?).
As you click options, the running tally of your vehicle's total price updates
automatically, which is kind of neat. If you choose an option that changes
the parameter of your purchase (switching to the V8 engine, for example, means
you can't get a standard transmission) you're queried about your choice and
given the opportunity to second guess yourself.
At the end of the
"build your vehicle section," I was presented with a nicely loaded
Lincoln LS, all ready to be purchased.
Going to the next page brought up a map of "my" area and a list
of nearby Lincoln dealers from whom I could receive a price quote.
All accomplished without having to hoist any tools, program any robot welders
or, presumably, annoy a single unionized worker
This is where I ended the experiment, 'cause I'd been given a special Postal
Code from one of the test regions (which in reality was about 3000 miles from
my home) and I didn't want to waste the dealer's time.
The experimental site's enhancements include the capability of letting you
actually place a new order directly into the company's production stream (if
you can't find the vehicle at an area dealer) and track its status 24 hours
a day from the time it enters production until it arrives at the dealer for
pickup. Ford will even send its "test market" customers e-mails to
keep them apprised of their vehicle's status, and special Internet Sales Consultants
are on hand to bring over a contract and even deliver the car to your door.
There are no plans at this time to export the extra interactivity to the
US, but the experiment clearly shows the direction in which e-commerce is evolving.
Speaking of evolving, Mercedes Benz' SLK Kompressor is undergoing
some welcome changes.
Not that the two seater was a slouch to start with, but for the 2001 model
year the three-pointed star is shining on the little roadster more brightly
It's getting a reduced sticker price, six speed standard transmission (hooray!)
"Electronic Stability Program" traction control system that helps
keep the car on track even if you drive like an idiot.
Not only that, but the four banger receives five more horses (to 190) and
is being joined by a 215 horsepower V6-powered sibling. Numerous other mechanical
and cosmetic changes, and optional accessories like power and/or heated seats,
should make this "entry level" (for Mercedes-Benz!) sports car even