Automakers Aim To Make Cars Fully Networked

Forget texting at the wheel: automakers want you check Facebook and book a table from your car, while live traffic information displays the least congested route.

GENEVA (AP) — Forget texting at the wheel: automakers want you to be able to check Facebook, listen to Internet radio and book a table online, while live traffic information displays the least congested route to your destination.

Envious of the booming market for mobile phone applications, manufacturers such as Ford and Mercedes used the Geneva Motor Show to unveil their latest efforts to attract younger customers for whom smartphones are more appealing than Smart cars.

Ford is rolling out its SYNC system to European drivers this year, starting with the new B-Max family car. SYNC — already available in North America — lets drivers control their phone with voice commands, have a computer read out text and Twitter messages, or stream music through the car speakers.

When the air bag is deployed, indicating a crash, the system will automatically call an emergency number and report the location of the car based on GPS coordinates. It will then attempt to connect the operator to the driver.

Experts such as former Ford chief technology officer Richard Parry-Jones say such systems could make driving a lot more pleasurable and help ease road congestion.

But they also pose risks.

"Quite a lot of work still needs to be done to ensure safety and compatibility," Parry-Jones told The Associated Press on the sidelines of an industry meeting at the auto show Wednesday.

Privacy, too, could become an issue just as it has with phone apps that track users' location, he said. "We should worry about it but it's not an insoluble issue."

U.S. company Harman — best known for its hifi systems — was one of the first to see the potential of onboard infotainment systems that connect to drivers' smartphones and the Web.

The company already makes sophisticated dashboard systems for premium auto manufacturers like Mercedes, Lexus and BMW. At the Geneva event, it showcased a next-generation system that can recognize different drivers and personalize the system to suit their needs.

But amid the general euphoria over in-car apps, some automakers are cautious.

Pitt Moos, the product manager for Smart's electric vehicles, said manufacturers need to make sure customers really want all the distractions that come with being online all the time.

"There's a risk of technology overkill," he said.

For now, Smart is concentrating on letting users remotely check the charge status of their electric car, not the Facebook status of their friends.

The Harmann Infotainment system is build in in a Smart car on Wednesday, March 7, 2012 during the press preview days at the 82nd Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland.The Motor Show will open it's doors to public from 8th to the 18th of March presenting more than 260 exhibitors and more than 180 world and European premieres. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

More in Industry 4.0