The integration of social media into the automotive industry is predicted to be one of the key digital trends of 2012 and already this week we have seen several developments in this field.

On Monday Ford launched a new tool that allows its US dealers to display real time inventory information through their own social media profiles, and YouTube this week announced two new automotive channels.

One app positioned to take advantage of this integration of social and automotive is

Having started out as a website portal, it launched iPhone and iPad apps in February last year and more recently unveiled Facebook and Android versions.

Touting itself as an eco-friendly and money-saving app, it works by pairing up drivers with passengers who need a lift.

The car owner enters the route they are planning to travel on a certain day, how many seats they have free and the cost for each, then potential passengers can pick their driver form journeys matching the route and date they wish to travel.

Carpooling product manager Abi Moore said the company has an active social media community, including 80,000 Facebook fans and 4,000 Twitter followers.

“Anytime someone adds a lift they have the option to post it on their Facebook wall or tweet it with the click of a button. We also recognise not everyone wants to do this, so it is user initiated.”

Several car companies, including Renault, have announced plans to integrate tablets into their vehicles.

Carpooling would seemingly be a perfect app to take advantage of this, as drivers could upload lifts from their car and use location-based technology to link-up with passengers.

The app already uses geo-location, so if the user is somewhere unfamiliar it will help them locate the closest cities to search for lifts.

However Moore said that this is not an area the company was investigating at the moment.

“We put great emphasis on product development, hence the reason why we have apps on iPhone, Android and Facebook, a mobile website and a booking system with online payment. We are always looking for ways to innovate and provide the best tools for our users to access the lifts listed on our database.”

She said that as technology advances Carpooling needs to be faster and more aware of the best areas to develop, and while there will be more new products in 2012 in-car tablets was not an area the company was looking to exploit.

And while in-car tablets are still a fledgling technology it probably makes business sense to focus on areas that will yield more immediate returns.

At the moment Carpooling’s apps make money by charging for ads and taking a cut of the fee drivers charge for giving lifts.

With at least 600,000 lifts on the database at anyone time there is potential to make a lot of commission and these are two areas that can be more easily exploited by increasing user numbers.

The most glaring concern with the app is the safety of passengers, but Moore said Carpooling has a number of safety measures that protect it users, including email and telephone validation and driving license authentication.

Users can also choose if they want a male or female driver.

“In the past ten years, we have had a great track record. The most serious issues have involved trivial issues such as forgetting a mobile phone or bag in the car or arriving too late. We want to keep it that way.”

The focus on innovation alongside customer safety has yielded 220,000 iOS downloads and 85,000 on Android in the past year, and if the automotive industry continues to embrace social media at the current rate Carpooling should be well placed to see its user numbers grow.