Ford is launching a new online car-shopping service that will allow users to do things like view local pricing and incentives, apply for financing and schedule test drives all before setting foot inside a showroom. It's the latest tool to help people spend less time at dealerships.

Ford is calling the tool Ready.Shop.Go. It'll enable people to check inventory, pricing and incentives and lock in a deal for 48 hours, plus apply for financing, estimate trade-in values and set up a test drive. You can also save a deal and return later to complete the process, similar to a shopping-cart function on e-retail sites like Amazon. Ford plans to launch the service later this month in several Midwestern states. It'll become available across the country by the end of the year.

Ford says the service fits with its own market research that shows the digital era has made us all more impatient and that people consider surfing the web a productive use of time. That won't come as a shock to anyone with a hand-held computer-phone in their pocket. (BRB I just got a Snapchat ...)

It's the latest sign that the auto industry is moving away from the traditional model of sending consumers to dealerships for the whole car-purchase shebang, from browsing inventory to signing paperwork. Hyundai has launched its own online program called Shopper Assistance, which also allows people to fill out most paperwork from home, and Lincoln has been operating a pilot program in which dealers bring vehicles to consumers for at-home test drives and sometimes even let them complete the entire sales process at home. Lincoln is also among the automakers launching monthly subscription services, joining the likes of Volvo, Porsche and others that allow consumers to bypass major parts of the dealership experience.

Autoblog offers its own Car Finder tool, which walks shoppers through a series of questions about what they're looking for in a new vehicle to make suggestions, plus a Compare tool that lets you compare specs of several vehicles side by side. We're also publishing new buying guides that answer questions about popular vehicles.

As we recently wrote about online car shopping, dealership e-commerce platforms are currently a mixed bag of capabilities, and Internet shoppers often have to toggle between various third-party websites for things like trade-in values

Currently, Ford's retail website lets you configure different models and compare specifications, but largely points users toward their nearest dealer. The new tool, which it says it developed with help from dealers, will assign shoppers a single point of contact at the dealer. Ford says future versions will include customizable purchase and lease options courtesy of AutoFi, a financial technology firm in which Ford Motor Credit has invested, and customers will eventually be able to remotely review and execute contracts with Ford Credit.

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