Posted: December 2, 2012
From the back seat of a Bentley to the cab of a Ford F-150, NPR's Nina Gregory visits the L.A. Auto Show to check out the latest in mobile offices: vehicles designed for work.
The 2013 Bentley Mulsanne features drop-down iPad workstations. More cars are being outfitted to operate as mobile offices.
Brad Hines is a building contractor in Los Angeles who spends a good eight hours a day in his 2008 Dodge Ram. He talked to us from his truck — hands-free, of course.
"I do everything in my truck. I drive from job site to job site. I take calls. I try to get on the computer and clean up daily reports. I answer emails on my phone. I use my truck as a mobile office," Hines says.
The idea of the mobile office is far from new — Willy Loman; the Avon Lady; plumbers; electricians. Now, technology is taking the idea of working from the road to a whole new level.
Hines is not alone. For people who drive trucks, utility is key.
How Business Is Done
"This is the biggest tool in their toolbox," says Bob Hegbloom, director of the Ram truck brand.
The trucks his company is showing off at the L.A. Auto Show offer not just the traditional functions of a truck — towing, hauling or the ability to bring a crew to a job site. Now, these trucks can function as an outright office.
In the center console of the high-end Ram 3500 Laramie Longhorn, there's a media hub where you can charge an iPad or a laptop. The truck has a touch screen to access your media while parked or driving. There's a USB port and an SD card slot. You can even turn the truck into a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Why would anyone need all this in their truck?
"We've all probably had someone come out and give us an estimate — a plumber or an electrician. Typically, they've come out, they write something down, they leave, and they may get it back to you. What this allows them to do is they can come right out to your house, they can go sit in their truck, and they can complete that whole application, print it, and hand it to you right there," Hegbloom says.
A Connected World
"Being able to print something out is a big deal for a contractor. I mean, it might be the difference in getting the deal and not getting the deal," says Jack Nerad, executive editorial director at Kelley Blue Book.
Dodge isn't the only manufacturer to offer this kind of connectivity. Over at the Ford booth is Mike Levine, the truck communications manager for Ford Motor Co.
"We understand that our worker customers expect more and more out of their trucks every year, because they're mobile workers now," he says. "They have cellphones. They have laptops. They're very connected. Actually, our F-series owners have some of the highest penetration rates of all of our vehicles of smartphone usage because they're actually running businesses from their trucks," Levine says.
And there are a lot of F-series truck owners. Ford's F-150 has been the best selling vehicle — that's car or truck — in the U.S. for the past 30 years. Levine was sitting in a 2013 King Ranch F-150. It has similar connectivity to the Ram. All this functionality can make a big difference, Nerad says.
"We're going to see more and more functionality out of vehicles. We're a connected people now. So vehicles that allow that, and allow that in a safe way without making us distracted by it, will be the winners in the marketplace," Nerad says.
And for the really big winners in the marketplace, they might consider, say, having someone else do the driving for them.
"People, when they're in the back of this car, they like to do business. Yeah, they like to work. They're not desperately interested in the scenery going by. So it's kind of dead time. So how can I fill it?" says Kevin Rose from sales and marketing at Bentley Worldwide, talking about the 2013 Mulsanne.
In addition to all the office-y features the trucks offer, you can video-conference in the Bentley or outfit it with a hard drive in the trunk. Not to mention store a bottle of champagne to toast the deal in the fridge nestled between the back seats. Starting at $296,000, this is not the mobile office for your average worker. Still, it's a fine place to work.
All Tech Considered
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