Microsoft and the Hyundai Kia Automotive Group announced today an agreement to put Microsoft's Automotive Platform, the technology behind the Ford Sync system, into Hyundai and Kia cars by 2010. Ford Sync lets users integrate MP3 players and cell phones with their cars, allowing for hands-free calling and voice-command music selection. There are no details yet about what features will be offered, but we can expect similar functionality to Ford Sync, along with anything else Microsoft can come up with in time for the assembly line. Hyundai Kia has been pushing hard over the last few years to go upscale, with the upcoming Hyundai Genesis luxury sedan being hotly anticipated. At this year's New York auto show, Kia showed off its first use of a GPS system, in the Borrego.
We spoke with Martin Thall, head of general manager of Microsoft's Automotive Business Unit, about the deal. He emphasized that the current announcement only covers the strategic partnership, and doesn't detail which models might carry the new system, or even how Hyundai Kia will brand it. Mr. Thall stated that Microsoft is interested in developing a strong speech experience with its automotive platform, and looks to a future where the platform becomes the head unit in vehicles. He also suggested that automakers are looking for low-cost navigation, and said one solution might be using dashboard left/right indicator lights for route guidance, rather than an expensive LCD.
Another part of the Microsoft/Hyundai Kia agreement includes an automotive innovation center in Korea that includes the Korean government as a partner. This center would work on Korean government initiatives concerning the environment and safety, and give Korean technology companies a leg up into the automotive market.