Available this year
The system, called Sync, will allow drivers to seamlessly connect any mobile phone or digital media player with their vehicle's steering wheel or radio controls. Ford will have Sync exclusively through calendar 2008, said Mark Fields, president of the Americas for Ford, at an unveiling at the International North American Auto Show here. Sync will be available on the all-new 2008-model Ford Focus coming out this year and 11 other Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models in 2007.
Mr. Fields said Sync's voice-activating capabilities allow hands-free dialing of mobile phones and three-way calling available in English, Spanish or French. Sync can read text messages to drivers and connect iPods, Microsoft's Zune or other MP3 players to the car's systems.
Drivers can also command the system to play songs by artist, album, song title or genre. Up to six mobile phones can be connected to Sync and their phone books automatically transferred to the vehicle.
Words from Bill Gates
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates appeared at Ford's press conference via a live video feed from Las Vegas, where he was attending the Consumer Electronics show.
"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," Mr. Gates said in a prepared statement. He said that "Sync will help revolutionize the driving experience by providing a simple system that intelligently connects mobile phones, music players, and more."
Charlie Hughes, president of auto consultant BrandRules, dubbed the partnership a "big deal" that should improve Ford's beleaguered reputation both on Wall Street and with consumers.
Todd Turner, president of auto consultant CarConcepts, said Sync could signal the beginning of the end for GM's OnStar communications system, noting that Sync will have no monthly fees as OnStar does.
More partnerships likely
Microsoft has been yearning for an in-vehicle auto partnership, he said. Mr. Turner predicted Sync would be adopted by other automakers once Ford's exclusivity with Sync ends at the end of 2008, expanding its reach.
When GM introduced OnStar in the late 1990s, it predicted revenue it generated from its monthly fees for the service could one day surpass U.S. revenue generated by car sales and transform GM into a communications company.
Ford Motor tried to compete with OnStar in the late 1990s by forming a venture with Qualcomm and co-developing Wingcast, but the their relationship ended a few years ago before Wingcast was launched.