Ford Kicks Off In-Car Internet at Consumer Electronics Show

Last Updated Jan 7, 2010 9:11 AM EST

LAS VEGAS -- Today is Day One of a new and long-anticipated era for automotive interiors.

Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally was expected to take the wraps off new technologies at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in a keynote address here today that will allow in-car access to the Internet, with new automotive interiors built from scratch with that ability in mind.

Ford (F) calls its breakthrough interior technologies MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch, based on the fact that the new systems use touch-screens to a much greater degree than previous systems, and the fact that the driver and passengers will be able to significantly customize the car's gauges and displays, making them "mine."

For instance, using steering-wheel-mounted controls, the driver can choose whether the instrument panel shows a digital version of the tachometer, or a different display that checks out the car's internal systems, among many other possibilities according to Jason Johnson, Ford User Interface Design Engineer. Depending on the feature, there are also redundant controls in the center of the dash, called the "center stack."

MyFord and MyLincoln are also integrated with a new generation of the Ford Sync system. Sync integrates portable electronic devices with the car's speakers and controls, including voice-control.

Using the new Ford system, for example, the car's occupants will be able to use features like Pandora installed on their smart phones to listen to Internet radio, and to control it via voice-control, according to Julius Marchwicki, Sync Technology Integration Manager. "A lot of what Ford is doing is about personalizing the experience," he said in an interview.

"There's a whole new emphasis on interiors," said Derek Kuzak, Ford global vice president of product development, in a Jan. 6 press preview here prior to the Mulally speech at CES.

"Today we are thinking and behaving like a consumer electronics company," he said.

Ford isn't the only one, although Ford appears to have stolen a march on its rivals. General Motors, for instance, is working on similar functionality using its OnStar system, said Nick Pudar, OnStar vice president, planning and business development, in a separate interview on Jan. 6. GM insists that its system is safer, because it uses cell-phone capability hard-wired into the car, instead of a portable cell phone that can be lost or damaged in an accident.

But it's clear that starting with Ford and rapidly moving through the rest of the auto industry, automotive interiors will be built from the ground up around Internet connectivity.

That's a huge change, even though the technology for in-car Internet connectivity has already been around for a while, using hand-held devices and aftermarket accessories that are not original equipment in your car. What's new is that the car companies will start building interiors with that in mind, something that only the original-equipment manufacturers can do.

The new Ford systems will debut this year on the 2011 Ford Edge, and next year on the 2012 Ford Focus, an all-new, redesigned model. MyLincoln Touch will be standard equipment on new Lincolns beginning with 2011 Lincoln MKX later this year.

Photo: Ford