DETROIT – Ford Motor Co. says it will soon offer wireless mobile offices in its F-series pickups, an option aimed at building contractors and others who do business on the road.
A Ford F-250 Super Duty truck (search) equipped with a mobile office is scheduled to debut Tuesday at the Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas. The annual show isn't open to the public, but it dazzles an estimated 100,000 automotive insiders with souped-up vehicles and the latest aftermarket trends and components.
Ford expects to offer the mobile office as a dealer-installed accessory in 2006. Pricing isn't finalized, but it would cost around $3,000 for a wireless-equipped computer, printer and global positioning system, Ford spokesman Alan Hall said. Add-ons like a digital camera and credit card scanner also would be available.
The system uses a flat Stargate Mobile (search) computer, powered by the truck's battery and mounted on a stand between the driver's seat and passenger seat.
The computer has a touch-screen option — eliminating the need for a keyboard or mouse — and is designed to be removed from the stand and taken to a work site. It stays connected to the Internet via a broadband wireless cellular card and even has a screen that is visible in direct sunlight.
"It's super rugged. You can drop it in the dirt, pick it up, brush it off and you're good to go," said Patty Dilger, director of North American automotive and industrial equipment for Microsoft Corp., which worked with Ford to develop the mobile office and provides the Windows XP Professional (search) operating system.
Dilger said this is the first time that operating system has been available as a dealer-installed option in a vehicle. Microsoft has an operating system called Windows Automotive 5.0 (search) in about 18 vehicle models, but it's mainly used for vehicle communication systems such as real-time traffic updates.
The computer in the Ford pickups will be equipped with a full suite of office software, including Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint, and can also play music or be used for navigation.
"It's not new technology. It's innovatively packaging very familiar technology," Hall said. "That's the best part. It's user-friendly."
Dilger envisions a contractor who would be able to review measurements in a blueprint, order a door online and pay for it without having to go back and forth to the office. She emphasized that the system can be disabled or used with voice commands while the owner is driving so it's less distracting.
The F-series truck was the best-selling vehicle in the United States for the 23rd straight year in 2004. Around 60 percent of F-series buyers use their trucks for business, Hall said.
Hall said if the mobile office is successful, Ford will consider adding it to other vehicles.
Thirteen other automakers also will be showing specialty vehicles during the four-day show, including Toyota Motor Co., Honda Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler AG and Hyundai Motor Co.
General Motors Corp. said it will be showing off customized versions of 25 smaller GM vehicles as well as the newest members of Cadillac's performance lineup, the STS-V and XLR-V.