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MOBILE OFFICE IN TRANSIT AS CARMAKERS JOIN RACE DODGE RAM HAS SPACE; FORD, OLDS THE OPTIONS

By Published on .

Picture this.

You hop in your car, head down the highway and begin talking to your voice-activated cellular phone. You discover your son's babysitter got to your house on time, but that a client wants to see some information immediately-and in person.

Click on the personal computer. Pull up the figures the client wants. Program the vehicle's navigational system to take you there, suggesting roads to avoid and the quickest route.

As you pull into the parking lot, the fax comes through with the final information you need to show the client.

This might sound like a technology junkie's pipe dream, but it's within the realm of possibility. Possible today, not five years from now.

"As far as the mobile office goes, what could be set up in vehicles today is now only limited by imagination and economics," says David Cole, director of the Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation at the University of Michigan. "The technology for a complete mobile office is right here, now."

But, Mr. Cole says, "The question for car companies is what is realistic economically. The technology is so available in the aftermarket that a car company has to be able to justify the extra cost to the consumer right from the factory."

For instance, Cellular One has a group of independent retailers that work with area car dealers in the installation of car phones and portable fax machines.

Automakers are approaching the office on wheels issue cautiously not only because of cost but questions of demand. Still, they're working toward offering a complete vehicular office.

Ford Motor Co. is offering a voice-activated, hands-free Motorola phone in its top-of-the-line Lincoln Mark VIII model-a $690 option.

"The major thing we can bring is the hands-free feature," says George Forrest, marketing manager for Ford's electronics division, because the automaker is committed to the safety factor.

Pre-wiring for phones will eventually be available in many Ford vehicles, says Mr. Forrest, an attraction to customers who already have a cellular phone.

Ford has a concept Ford Explorer-dubbed the Desk Driver-equipped with a state-of-the-art office and communications system. It contains among other things a computer and fax. The roof was raised about four inches to make room for equipment.

At General Motors Corp.'s Oldsmobile Division, the Olds 88 line will soon feature an optional navigational system, costing about $2,000.

Navigational systems incorporate the use of global positioning satellites, microcomputers and compasses. Destinations can be programmed and feedback will appear on a video screen.

The first cars available with the system are due out in June, in California.

One issue that comes up when incorporating such technologies is space. And Chrysler Corp.'s much acclaimed 1994 Dodge Ram full-size pick-up truck shows where car companies could be headed.

In the front seat of the cab, a fold-up business console contains storage compartments for a cellular phone, laptop computer and other equipment needed to do business from your vehicle. On the instrument panel is an auxiliary "powerpoint" for the hook-up of hardware such as a fax machine.

"I think the mobile office is very realistic," says Don Runkle, VP-general manager of GM's Saginaw Division. But "the whole package needs to be about $1,000. In five years, it will be close to the end of the decade, and you will see it happen."

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