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Ford Expanding Sync Car System

LAS VEGAS — Ford is expanding on its new Sync car A/V system, developed with Microsoft, which is being hailed as a breakthrough product for the OEM new-car market and a competitor to the aftermarket.

Ford announced at International CES it will expand Sync to nearly all Ford, Lincoln and Mercury cars and trucks by the end of 2008. Since its launch three months ago, Sync has sold 33,000 units in new cars and is on track to exceed sales of 1 million units by early 2009, said Ford.

“Those are pretty good numbers,” said Microsoft automotive business unit product manager Velle Kolde at CES.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates also announced at the show that Sync, a car A/V system with advanced voice recognition that can read aloud a user’s email from his cellular phone, will offer a new 911-assist feature. Once the user pairs a Bluetooth phone with Sync (performed once initially), the Sync can then automatically call 911 should the air bag in the car ever deploy in an accident. As long as the user has his phone in the car and it is turned on, Sync will place the call in an emergency and a prerecorded message will play when the call is answered. The feature helps to speed a connection to 911, Ford said, and it carries no additional monthly fees.

The Sync car A/V system raised eyebrows since its introduction as it allows connections with most portable devices, including iPods and Bluetooth phones, and it controls all the devices via voice recognition without requiring the user to “voice train” the unit. It can stream music from a Bluetooth phone as well as read allow email from the phone. Ford also mounted an aggressive TV campaign for the radios over the holidays.

Ford Sync brand manager John Emmett said Ford treated the Sync launch “like a vehicle launch” in terms of advertising support. “We put the resources behind it similar to a major vehicle freshening.” This was “the first time we launched a feature the same way we launched a vehicle.”

As a result, Emmitt said, the Sync system is helping to sell cars. “From the data I’ve seen, Sync is sufficient to inspire people to increase consideration of a Ford, Lincoln or Mercury purchase. It’s putting Ford on people’s shopping lists.”

Delphi said the product represents a breakthrough in OEM systems and that other car makers are now reacting to it. “I think they are all somewhat threatened that Ford is out there with it and they don’t have something like it,” said Jeffrey Owens, Delphi electronics and safety president.

Ford says its voice-recognition capabilities are superior to anything offered by car companies to date, claiming earlier systems were a gimmick in that they only controlled features such as seek or volume and it was easier to simply to do that by hand.

Larry Rougas, Pioneer mobile electronics marketing and product planning VP, said, “I’m all for Sync. I like the awareness it is creating for the category.”