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New Sync Begins Rollout Today

Sync radios featuring audio traffic updates and directions as you drive will launch May 18 in some vehicles and early June in several others, as Ford converts the popular radio to the traffic/information appliance it announced in January.

Today owners of 2010 Ford Fusions and Mustangs will be able to download an upgrade to their Sync radios that will convert them to traffic/information appliances via the Sync My Ride Web site. Then starting in June, the upgraded radios will roll out in 2010 Ford Edge, Taurus, Super Duty trucks and Lincoln MKS preloaded, with no download necessary. These will then continue to appear in almost all new Ford models as they debut throughout the year, the company said.

The original Sync radio took the industry by storm when it was released in late 2007 because it allowed voice activation and control of a wide range of devices including iPods. It remains one of the most feature-rich car radios in OEM and retail electronics.

Ford said it has now produced its 1 millionth vehicle offering a Sync radio, and it expects to ship its 1 millionth vehicle with Sync shortly, according to a spokeswoman.

This month, the radio receives the upgrade shown first at International CES in January, which lets it deliver voice-in, voice-out traffic updates and navigation cues plus weather, stock and news reports similar in some ways to OnStar.

Ford is again throwing a curve to the industry by offering this service for free for the first three years.

There’s no map screen, just voice cues. Users receive traffic updates along their route, they can ask for directions as they drive. They can also receive weather and stock updates and some news updates. The link for the service is the user’s Bluetooth phone and the information is sent over the phone’s voice channel so no data plan is required from the carrier.

Ford is not stopping there. The next version of Sync, which might debut in nine to 12 months, may take advantage of Internet capabilities on a smartphone, allowing Pandora to play through the car’s sound system, Ford said.

“We’ll be able to link you to your Internet in the car. If you brought an iPhone into the vehicle, you could interact with that through voice. You could then read your email by voice,” said Joe Berry, Ford business and product development director for Sync, referring to a future version of Sync.

The company is currently working with Pandora and is also targeting other Web applications.

“Pandora is sort of dipping our feet in the water … We’ll be doing that with a lot more applications,” Berry said.

The updated Sync uses Inrix traffic data and TellMe voice technology as well as Airbiquity and TeleNav technology. Best Buy is slated to provide technical support to Sync customers who have trouble pairing their phones with the new Sync. The Sync was developed with Microsoft.