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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 online" strategy.

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 ( and also accessible - after much searching - from Ford's main site at 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 than ever.

It's getting a reduced sticker price, six speed standard transmission (hooray!) and Mercedes-Benz's "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 more fun.


Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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