Ford Motors Company on Sunday has entered into a partnership with software giant Microsoft Corp. to offer cars with a new entertainment and communication technology that controls mobile phones and portable music players by voice commands or steering-wheel buttons.
Ford has yesterday unveiled the system, called Sync at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The Sync system, based on Microsoft Auto software, uses Bluetooth technology for wireless connection of phones and a USB port to control and charge digital media players, including Apple's iPod and Microsoft's new rival product, Zune.
The technology aimed at to bring the connectivity of a computer to the car enables drivers to pick songs, artists or genres using voice activation or controls on the steering wheel. The system also allows them to make hands-free phone calls and have cell phone text messages read aloud, through the sound system, complete with a vocabulary of slang abbreviations such as "LOL" for "laughing out loud."
The Dearborn, Michigan based auto giant and Redmond, US based Microsoft also announced the state-of-the-art technology on the eve of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
"Ford and Microsoft share a vision for a future where drivers are safely connected to the people, information and entertainment they care about while they are on the road," said Bill Gates, Chairman, Microsoft Corporation. "Built on Microsoft Auto technology, Ford Sync delivers an in-car system that is an important step toward achieving this vision. Using software that bridges the automotive and consumer electronics industries, Sync will help revolutionize the driving experience by providing a simple system that intelligently connects mobile phones, music players, and more."
Although, Microsoft has declined to say if it planned to pitch Sync to other auto makers, but Velle Kolde, a senior product manager, said the company saw an opportunity to put its software in more than 600 million cars worldwide.
The motor company plans to put the system as a factory-installed feature in 12 of its vehicles starting with 2008 models, which are Ford Focus, Fusion, Five Hundred, Edge, Freestyle, Explorer and Sport Trac; Mercury Milan, Montego and Mountaineer; and Lincoln MKX and MKZ.
Company officials say that the system would be available in the future in all Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models, and likely be an option that would cost less than $1,000.
With Sync system, struggling Ford hoping to win back customers in its US home market, and trying to compete with General Motors Corp. 's OnStar system, DaimlerChrysler AG's MyGIG in-dash hard drive storage system and such similar devices offered by other manufacturers. Ford has signed the contract with Microsoft for one year, after which the system can be sold to other automakers.
Ford's deal with Microsoft comes at a time when America’s second largest auto maker is making efforts to regain US market share. In US, Ford's sales dipped 13 per cent in December and 8 per cent for whole last year. It lost US$7 billion in the first nine months of year 2006 with more losses forecast in the last ended quarter and beyond.