lan Mulally, president and CEO of Ford, delivers his keynote speech at the 2010 CES. Photograph: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters.
A century after it first revolutionised the car industry, Ford plans to make its vehicles more hi-tech – by letting drivers listen to internet radio, conduct web searches and even send Twitter messages straight from the dashboard.
Speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Ford chief executive Alan Mulally unveiled the next generation of Ford’s in-car Sync entertainment system and said that it would be able to do everything they expected from a computer or mobile phone.
“We are actually now bringing the internet to the car,” he said. “We’re going to bring all the applications you can get on mobile phones today, we’ll bring in the car – absolutely hands-free, voice activated, and focused on the road – but you can get access to all your cool stuff.”
The system, called Sync MyTouch, is based around a pair of dashboard touchscreen computers that allow drivers and passengers to carry out a number of activities while they drive thanks to a wireless internet or 3G connection.
The touch or voice activated systems can be synchronised with mobile handsets like the iPhone – they can use any one of hundreds of applications specifically designed for Sync, such as built-in satellite navigation and local search.
The technology, which was developed in conjunction with Microsoft and was first unveiled in 2007, is currently only available in 12 of the company’s north American models – but Mulally said new Sync modules would be integrated into 80% of the company’s US cars within five years.
Last year it said there were plans to launch the system in European models later in 2010,
Despite concerns over safety, the company says that using Sync should be no more – as long as drivers to the same rules about using other in-car devices, such as satellite navigation systems and mobile phones.
“The whole process of interface design is also more critical in a vehicle, because the driver is dealing with so many more inputs,” said Ford vice president Derrick Kuzak. “We have to keep interfaces simple and intuitive. And they have to minimize driver distraction.”
The world’s fourth-largest car maker says it hopes that providing extras like internet connectivity can help boost its fortunes as the American auto industry struggles to cope with the effects of the recession.
Although Ford suffered substantially during the depths of the financial crisis – posting record losses of $14.6bn (£9.1bn) in 2008 – the company appears to be on the up. Unlike its Detroit rivals, General Motors and Chrysler, the company did not file for bankruptcy and $2.3bn (£1.4bn) in profit for the second quarter of 2009.
Mulally said that improving the technology inside its cars was an important part of turning around the company and making it a leader once again.
“We believe these features have a place in every Ford vehicle, not just our luxury models,” he said.
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