In recent years, auto dealers have begun expanding their service hours to accommodate customers whose schedules make it difficult to get to the dealership during what used to be considered normal hours of operation.

And while dealers still maintain after-hours vehicle drop-off, it’s an old-school system that involves stuffing the key in an envelope with your your name, contact info, and vehicle details scrawled on it and dropping it in a mail slot.

Ford and Panasonic want to improve that concept with an automated system that also allows customers to retrieve their vehicles, pay for service after hours, and “make our customers’ lives better.”

HeapMedia351639

Dubbed the Smart Service Kiosk, the touchscreen-based system is being piloted at a LaFontaine Ford in Birch Run, Michigan, a small community north of Detroit, between Flint and Saginaw.

Using a touchscreen terminal outside the dealership, the kiosk even allows customers to pick up a loaner vehicle and pay for their service call using a credit card.

The process begins with the customer entering their name and address using the touchscreen (or scanning a QR code on their driver’s licence) along with contact information. They are then asked for their vehicle information and to create a security code to be used when they come back for their car.

HeapMedia351640

After selecting the service they need from a quick-pick menu, the customer drops their key into a secure drop slot, just as they would when doing an after-hours drop-off at any dealership.

The kiosk will send an email confirmation with another QR code that will allow the customer to retrieve their key after paying their bill.

A 90-day trial continues until June, when Ford and Panasonic will decide what refinements the system needs before it moves to a second round of testing.