Canadians first on Ford on-line

Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. has selected two Canadian communities as the first locations to launch a test site for its BuyerConnection on-line service, giving residents the ability to order cars on-line.

People living in the Hamilton/Niagara, Ont. region, as well as in the Ottawa/Carleton region, are already able to take advantage of the service.

Through the company’s site,, users are able to order directly from the manufacturer, according to Ford. Users are also able to: build their own custom vehicle; get a price; locate the vehicle by finding a dealership that has it in stock locally or find out if it is being shipped from the plan or is on the assembly line; secure the purchase with a $250 credit card deposit; place a new order into Ford’s production system if the car can’t be found; and track the status of their order throughout the entire process.

Carole Sage is a project manager in St. Catherines, Ont., and also the very first customer to purchase a car through the service — she picked up her new Ford on June 15.

She wanted to trade in her older Ford for another, and noticed an advertisement in her local newspaper for the on-line service.

Sage was able to go on-line and custom-order the car she wanted, selecting from the available options.

“All the prompts that were on there were logical and made sense,” she said. “And sometimes you get on some of these sites and it takes forever for pictures to download, and you feel like you’re wasting a lot of time waiting and waiting — this site was pretty clear, with great response time. I found it saved me a lot of time.”

She was also pleased with the cost calculator tool, which showed what the cost of the car was as she added and removed features during the building of the car.

“On one side of the screen you’re always having your total vehicle cost, and on the other side you’re having your options come up,” she explained. “So you can monkey around that way instead of looking at the lot and going from car to car, and having some salesman blabbing on and on.”

Users will only be capable of purchasing a new Ford Focus, Windstar or Taurus in the beginning, according to the company, which expects that all of its stock will eventually be available on-line.

Austin, Tex.-based Trilogy Software Inc. and Ford formed a joint venture to build the site, according to David McGuffie, product development manager for Ford ConsumerConnect in Dearborn, Mich.

“Trilogy started out as a configurator company, that is now kind of an e-commerce platform company. We used their tools in order to do what I call the front office work — the front office being the Web site, and session management pieces. And we used their configurator…that’s what you click through in order to build your vehicle.”

The front end is Java- and CORBA-based, while the back end is Windows 2000- and Comm-based which, with the XML massaging allows for cross-platform capabilities, he said.

On the back end side, there is another partnership with an MSN property called CarPoint.

“Basically what we used was a custom-built, early version of their BizTalk server,” he said. “When we’re throwing an order back in to our legacy systems — and there’s other things, such as what the status is on your order — all this kind of integration back into our mainframe systems is all done through XML and through these BizTalk servers.”

All of the technology is housed at the company’s ISP in the U.S., he explained, because Ford was looking for a single global partner as opposed to having separate ones in different countries.

The dealership is still consummating the sale, McGuffie explained. After an order is placed, another tool through the CarPoint partnership is used — a customer management Web site. All interaction with the dealership and the customer is done through this tool, he explained.

Some of the challenges involved in building the site included the technologies that were used, McGuffie said, as most of them were fairly new.

The prices for the vehicles, called ePrice, will be altered on a regular basis every ten days to reflect the market, according to the company.

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