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Automaker accelerates computing drive

DaimlerChrysler announces key partnerships with Intel, IBM, AT&T Wireless and others in its effort to deliver computing functions to new-car buyers.

Automaker DaimlerChrysler announced on Thursday several key partnerships in its effort to deliver computing functions to new-car buyers.

The Auburn Hills, Mich.-based company has signed up Intel, IBM, AT&T Wireless, Johnson Controls and Gentex to provide key elements in its telematics drive. For the automobile industry, telematics means cars equipped with communications features and services such as cell phone capabilities and global positioning systems.

The announcement should provide a significant boost to the telematics industry because it will be one of the earliest commitments by a major automaker to factory-install telematics features into new cars. Up to this point, telematics has largely been an after-market add-on business for a niche market of early adopters.

DaimlerChrysler chose AT&T as its wireless communications provider; Johnson for Bluetooth wireless-networking technology; Gentex for its microphone and driver communications interface; and IBM for its speech software. Intel's upcoming XScale processors and StrataFlash memory will provide the engine behind all the components allowing them to work together.

Intel has signed a multiyear agreement with the automaker, according to sources, as it brings a new focus to chipmaking, its core business. Intel confirmed recently that it was phasing out its consumer electronics division because it wasn't meeting the company's requirements for long-term growth.

Intel has been investing in telematics and other businesses that would increase the shipments of its device processors and flash memory.

The first of DaimlerChrysler's new telematics offerings will be a cell-phone system that will let a driver use hands-free calling and voice commands. The system will be available as an aftermarket product in the spring of 2002 and will be factory-installed in cars in early 2003.

The company did not say which cars it would offer the system in or how much it would cost.