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New Fords are Wi-Fi hot spots

Automaker expanding options of in-vehicle Sync technology

DETROIT – The ability to turn your car into a Wi-Fi hot spot. Streaming Internet radio.

What could be next for Ford Motor Co.’s Sync?

That’s the voice-controlled telecommunications and entertainment system launched in 2007, which has been wildly popular, with a 70 percent take rate and a onetime purchase price of $395.

As it turns out, quite a lot.

Ford President and Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally is to deliver the keynote address Jan. 7 for the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where Ford is to reveal details about the next-generation Sync, but some have been released already.

That includes the Wi-Fi announcement. Anyone who plugs an air card into the Sync USB port can turn the car into a mobile, Wi-Fi hotspot.

Innovations like this, Ford says, reveal how the new Sync could lay a foundation for new in-car technology.

Ford Motor Co.’s strategy to use its Sync in-car technology system to turn its cars into Wi-Fi hotspots is just one of many approaches that automakers are using to bring wireless Internet into the car.

Several automakers, including General Motors Co., are using technology from Autonet Mobile to offer Wi-Fi.

But the approaches come with different price tags. Ford’s Sync, which is purchased with a onetime charge of $395, works with a user-provided air card, which are often bought through a telecommunications provider and come with a monthly fee.

GM’s service costs $29 a month, and there’s an advanced data package for $59 a month.

But Ford’s sales pitch for Sync is broader than Wi-Fi.

“What we are seeing is this strategy that we’ve had to create this platform that we can use to build things onto is working,” said Jim Buczkowski, Ford’s director of global electronics systems, “so we can have a continuous flow of great ideas.”

Ford developed Sync with Microsoft Corp. and has introduced several features since 2007 such as 911 Assist and a vehicle health report.

Sync has been successful for Ford. About 70 percent of Ford’s customers buy it, and the company expects that it will continue to draw young customers and technology enthusiasts with the improved technology next year.