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Sync adds audible navigation, information services

Thu, 08 Jan 2009

Ford Motor Co. and Microsoft Corp. are adding navigation and information features to their Sync system in an effort to stay ahead of rivals' telematics offerings.

The companies have developed a third generation of Sync that will give drivers audio-based traffic reports, turn-by-turn navigation and personalized news, without the need for a display screen

Microsoft on Wednesday night unveiled the enhancements at the International Consumer Electronics Show here. Microsoft briefed Automotive News on the enhancements in advance.

Giving drivers information by voice allows them to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, Velle Kolde, senior product manager for Microsoft's Automotive Business Unit, told Automotive News.

"It makes the time you spend in the car much more productive, much more enjoyable," he said.

2010 Mustang, Fusion

The upgraded service, called Sync with Traffic, Directions and Information, will be available this spring on the 2010 Mustang and Fusion cars. Ford says it will make the technology available on all Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles by 2011.

The services will be free for the first three years and cost about $8 a month afterward. So far, monthly Sync services have been free. Sync hardware is standard on Lincoln vehicles and an option on other Ford brands.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally will speak at the show on Thursday.

To use the traffic feature, a driver can go online and program a favorite destination, such as a work location. The driver will get traffic reports via text message to a Bluetooth-equipped mobile device.

If driving, the person also can have the Sync system read the message aloud.

The second new feature is turn-by-turn directions. By voice, a driver can specify a destination, say, the nearest florist, and the technology will locate the business and provide audible directions. Drivers also have the option of making a hands-free call to the business.

The audible directions would come through the stereo and be displayed on the radio screen. Drivers also could receive directions through a text message and map sent to a mobile device.

In the same manner, Sync will provide weather, news and sports reports. Drivers would go online and select "favorites" in those categories to get specialized reports.

No screen

Many of the features offered on this version of Sync are found in higher-end navigation systems, including Sirius Travel Link, which is already available on some Ford vehicles. The difference with the new Sync features is they don't require a navigation screen.

"Ford is unique because we continue to build on the power of the Sync system that lets customers connect to off-board services through their own mobile devices," Doug VanDagens, director of Ford's Connected Services Organization, said in a statement. "With that foundation, there is no limit to the data we can offer."

Ford and Microsoft first showed Sync at the 2007 electronics show. Last year, they used the massive trade show to announce a 911 assist feature, as well as vehicle health reports.

Ford says it's on target for cumulative sales of a million Sync-equipped vehicles in the third quarter this year.

Since November, the software underlying Sync has been available to other automakers and suppliers in North America. Hyundai is expected to introduce applications based on the software next year.

By Leslie J. Allen- Automotive News