Last year, GM CEO Rick Wagoner showed up to bring Detroit a little closer to CES, and at this year's show, Ford CEO Alan Mulally made an even stronger commitment to bring the kinds of electronics on show here into cars. Nothing could have set the tone of his keynote better than having Microsoft's Steve Ballmer come out at the beginning for a quick handshake and talk about working with Ford on Sync. Ballmer pointed out that Microsoft and Ford share a vision of making the car a connected environment, while Mulally said that Ford is learning to think and act like an electronics company.
Afterward, a parade of Ford executives came out to highlight different aspects of Ford's new cabin tech. Doug VanDagens, Director of Product and Business Development for electronics, announced that Ford would be offering HD radio in its cars by 2010, through a partnership with Ibiquity. Then he followed up with the big news, Sync 3.0. This latest version of Sync is greatly expanded in functionality, taking the simple cell phone and MP3 player connectivity of the prior version and adding a whole raft of services. With a paired Bluetooth cell phone, Sync 3.0 lets you connect to the Ford Service Delivery Network, which offers traffic conditions, weather, and business search, the last letting you look for businesses nearby using a keyword, such as flowers. All of these services come from an external source, so the information available is almost limitless. This new version of Sync will come with a GPS chip in the car, and make turn-by-turn directions available. Ford will offer all of these services for free during the first three years of car ownership, although there is no current word if they will start charging a fee at a later date.
Jim Buczkowski, in charge of interface development, came out next to talk about some new designs for instrument clusters in Ford vehicles. He first showed off the SmartGauge system, just now being launched in the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Mercury Milan Hybrid, which helps people drive more economically by giving them gauges that can coach them to greater fuel efficiency. Buczkowski mentioned principles Ford is using in designing a new generation for the Sync interface, then showed off a very conceptual new dashboard design with an electronic assistant dubbed EVA. The demo film showed a woman driving a Lincoln, and speaking to the EVA avatar in a conversational voice. The woman was able to ask for directions, place a phone call, have EVA read a news story and an e-mail out loud, and put an appointment on her calendar. Automakers long have shown off wild concept cars at auto shows, but this is the first time we've seen a concept dashboard from an automaker at an electronics show.
Mulally came back on stage for some final comments, saying that with Sync, Ford is now on the same clock cycle for development as electronics companies. He virtually invited all in attendance to develop devices and services that could use Ford vehicles as a platform. Winding it up, he announced that Sync will now be launched worldwide, starting with seven European countries, followed by Japan and Australia.