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Ford turns Sync system into traveling WiFi hot spot

Detroit Free Press

DETROIT — The ability to turn your car into a WiFi hot spot. • Streaming Internet radio. • What could be next for Ford Motor Co.'s Sync?

That's the voice-controlled telecommunications and entertainment system launched in 2007, which has been wildly popular, with a 70 percent take rate and a one-time purchase price of $395.

As it turns out, quite a lot of upgrades are planned.

Ford president and chief executive officer Alan Mulally is to deliver the keynote address for the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Thursday, where Ford is to reveal details about the next-generation Sync, but some have been released already.

That includes the WiFi announcement. Anyone who plugs an air card into the Sync USB port can turn the car into a mobile, WiFi hot spot.

Innovations like this, Ford says, reveal how the new Sync could lay a foundation for new in-car technology.

In just 100 days, six students at the University of Michigan at Dearborn developed a few applications. One, called Follow-Me, allows a car to track another in front of it.

"It's very important that we continue to innovate," said Ford marketer Michelle Moody.

Ford Motor Co.'s strategy to use its Sync in-car technology system to turn its cars into WiFi hot spots is just one of many approaches that automakers are using to bring wireless Internet into the car.

Several automakers, including General Motors Co., are using technology from Autonet Mobile to offer WiFi.

But the approaches come with different price tags.

Ford's Sync, which is purchased with a one-time charge of $395, works with a user-provided air card. These cards are often bought through a telecommunications provider and come with a monthly fee.

GM's service costs $29 a month, and there's an advanced data package for $59 a month.

But Ford's sales pitch for Sync is broader than WiFi.

"What we are seeing is this strategy that we've had to create this platform that we can use to build things onto is working," said Jim Buczkowski, Ford's director of global electronics systems, "so we can have a continuous flow of great ideas."

Ford developed Sync with Microsoft Corp. and has introduced several features since 2007 such as 911 Assist and a vehicle health report.

Sync has been successful for Ford. About 70 percent of Ford's customers buy it, and the company expects that it will continue to draw young customers and technology enthusiasts with the improved technology next year.

"What we've done with our approach is different than anybody else," said Doug VanDagens, Ford's director of connected services.

"With WiFi hot spot … and so on, you can imagine the kinds of things that are possible in the future," Buczkowski said.

Ford turns Sync system into traveling WiFi hot spot 01/05/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 5, 2010 3:30am]
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