Ford has launched a new tool that allows its US franchises to show real time vehicle inventory information through their own social media profiles.

FordDirect DealerConnection Vehicle Showroom (VSR) integrates with Facebook pages, YouTube channels or blogs to allow customers to browse new and used car information without clicking out of their original destination.

This means that visitors to a local dealer’s Facebook page can search by make, model or price, and can also submit an inquiry directly to the dealer plus refer a vehicle to their friends.

When a user clicks on a vehicle they are redirected to the dealer’s website, but if the car has been sold a list of similar vehicles will be displayed.

VSR also switches automatically to an HTML 5 version for those that access it via a smart phone or tablet.

This ability to provide up to date information on a per-dealer basis should make it more appealing to embrace social – since each dealership can build its own following online on a localised business.

Hotwire PR’s ‘Ten Driving Forces in Digital Marketing’ report identified the integration of social media into the automotive industry as one of the key trends in 2012. Not only as a sales tool, but also within the vehicle itself.

33 Digital director Peter Sigrist and one of the report’s authors, said that given how much time many of us spend in our cars they are a natural environment for social tools – and these could do more than simply sell cars.

Dashboard tools can efficiently connect drivers and car owners with important information, or help them track the use of the family car, for example. Auto-apps are likely to be a value-add for customers in the first instance.”

He said that automotive brands are represented by some of the most respected social strategists in the industry and the perception is that the industry is experimenting more than most in social communications.

Hotwire’s report states that app stores and location based services are areas that car companies will move to take advantage of in 2012.

In 2010 Ford revealed plans to launch an app store and in December Renault announced that it was to integrate tablets into its ZOE and Clio 4 models this year.

It appears that social location apps such as Foursquare are best placed to take advantage of this technology, but Sigrist said that any apps with a location dimension, such as retail brands, media brands or events companies could use car apps for marketing or sales activities.

Another exciting area might be their use by NGOs, who could work with energy and transport companies to make them more efficient using crowd-sourced data. The only limit to the benefits of auto-apps will be the extent to which stores are open to third-party developers.”