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1/7/2010
02:41 PM
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CES: Ford Rewires Cars For Connectivity

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Ford's CEO reaffirmed his company's commitment to in-car technology as a point of competitive differentiation.

Moving to make its vehicles mobile communications hubs, Ford on Thursday announced its new Ford MyTouch user interface and said that turn-by-turn directions with voice guidance will be standard on new vehicles equipped with MyTouch and its SYNC communications and entertainment platform.

In a keynote speech, Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally said that Ford had chosen the right in-vehicle technology strategy by allowing customers to connect their devices to the car rather than limiting their options with embedded systems. And he said that in-car technology was helping to sell Ford vehicles.

"According to our research, 32 percent of customers surveyed indicate that SYNC was critical or important to their decision to purchase," Mulally said in prepare remarks. "And with each SYNC upgrade, we see growth in heavy users."

Ford SYNC, introduced at CES in 2007 and based on the Microsoft Auto platform, allows drivers and passengers to connect portable media players to their vehicle and interact with devices and vehicle systems through spoken commands.

At CES this year, Ford introduced a new in-car device control interface called MyFord Touch. It is designed to simplify interaction with devices while minimizing driver distraction.

The system includes dual 4.2-inch LCD screens in conjunction with five-way button steering wheel controls, an 8-inch touch screen and voice commands. It can be used to control devices, such as mobile phones and MP3 players, to interact with vehicle climate controls, and for other forms of electronic communication.

"[T]he whole process of interface design is also more critical in a vehicle, because the driver is dealing with so many more inputs," said Ford group VP of global product development Derrick Kuzak in prepared remarks. "We have to keep interfaces simple and intuitive. And they have to minimize driver distraction. That's the whole point of SYNC technology -- to minimize the distraction of in-car use of mobile devices you love by connecting and controlling them by voice."

However, at least one study suggests that using a hands-free device may be no safer than using a hand-held mobile phone while driving.

This year, Ford will begin offering a Secure Digital (SD) card-based navigation system in all Ford MyTouch equipped vehicles. The company will begin rolling the GPS navigation system out in its Lincoln MKX crossover, scheduled to debut at the North American International Auto Show next week.

Kuzak said that Ford's vision for SYNC is to connect customers with families and friends, with their personal devices, and with the data they have stored in the cloud. "They can chat with their kids, listen to their RSS feeds, scan their iPods and make dinner reservations all while driving home from work," he said. "And all while keeping their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel."

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