Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009 | 10:03 p.m.
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Beyond the Sun
The failing auto industry was hardly the topic of Ford chief executive officer Alan Mulally’s keynote address Thursday night. Instead, the Ford president and chief executive officer used the Consumer Electronics Show stage to show his company is continuing to reinvent the driving experience.
Mulally showed off the latest in Ford’s in-vehicle technology, including platform convergence, new safety features, GPS systems and fuel-economy coaching.
“This is an exciting time for connectivity in the auto industry,” Mulally said to a room of technology professionals. “Imagine the possibilities for where we can go next. Together, those of us in this room are limited only by our collective imagination. Think about that -- unlimited potential for how together we can connect and digitize the automobile.”
The Ford president welcomed Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer back to the stage to kick off his discussion of Microsoft’s enhanced Sync 3.0, which will roll out in more Ford vehicles this year.
The next generation of Sync will feature the cell phone and MP3 connectability that previous Sync versions had, but Ford is adding real-time traffic information, turn-by-turn directions and information services, such as business listings, maps and weather information, all activated through touch or voice commands.
These features will be free to drivers during the first three years of ownership.
Sync 3.0 also will include a 911 Assist feature that will automatically dial local 911 operators at the sign of trouble without a driver having to dial a number. Vehicle diagnostic reports will be available online at SyncMyRide.com, with scheduled maintenance, suggested service centers and recall information.
The 911 Assist feature and vehicle diagnostics reports will be free to Sync users. Drivers will be able to download all of these applications from SyncMyRide.com to a USB drive and upload them to their vehicles.
Mulally said Ford plans to have 1 million Sync vehicles on the road by the end of this year.
The auto giant also announced the development of Ford Work Solutions, a new feature that allows drivers to use their trucks as a virtual home office. Drivers will be able to check e-mails, plot routes, check deliveries, access the Web and even print, all from their dashboard. The feature will be available in Ford’s F-150, Super Duty, E Series and Transit Connect this spring.
Jim Buczkowski, who leads Ford’s interface development, took the stage to unveil the company’s SmartGauge system, which will be launched in Ford Fusion hybrids and Mercury Milan hybrids. The new system will coach drivers on how to get the best fuel economy, and will display a digital tree that grows on the dashboard screen as better fuel economy is reached.
Buczkowski also showed a dashboard design with an electronic assistant dubbed EVA.
The demo showed a woman driving a Lincoln and speaking to the EVA avatar. The woman was able to ask for directions, place a phone call, have EVA read a news story and an e-mail, and put an appointment on a calendar.
Mulally closed his keynote with news of a partnership with Best Buy to supply tech support for Sync 3.0. He also announced Sync vehicles will be available globally in 2010, first in Europe, followed by Japan and Australia.