U.S. Automakers Play Catch-Up With iPod In-Car Integration

Germany’s BMW did it two years ago. Acura, Ferrari, Honda, Nissan, Volkswagen and other import car-makers followed suit in 2005. Now Ford and General Motors plan to get with the program. Apple Computer is teaming up with GM, Ford, and Mazda, to add built-in integration of its iPod digital audio player to most American-made car models in 2007.

The new alliances with North America’s No. 1 (GM) and No. 2 (Ford) automakers mean the wildly popular iPod will now be compatible with more than 70 per cent of all new 2007 model vehicles sold in the United States, Apple announced today.

According to Apple, GM and Mazda will offer built-in iPod options on all new models, and Ford will offer it on many of its Ford and Lincoln Mercury models later this year.

The partnership with Apple is part of a growing effort by Ford and other car companies to make it easier on drivers to access a variety of gadgets, such as cellphones, GPS navigation systems and digital audio players, while on the road.

“Consumers are listening to music, they’re messaging each other, and they want to engage in all those activities in their vehicles,” says Doug VanDagens, director of Ford’s product and business development in the electronics group.

Ford says it will offer the iPod integration as a dealer-installed option called TripTunes Advanced. List price will be $200 (US) plus installation. An adapter that doubles as a battery-charging station will go in either the glove compartment or the center storage console. Users will be able to control the iPod through buttons on the steering wheel or the radio. Playlists, artists, and other song information will also show on the car audio deck’s display screen.

Ford also plans to add auxiliary audio input jacks on nearly half of its lineup, starting this fall, to accommodate additional audio playback devices.

GM says it will offer its iPod-only setup called Personal Audio Link (PAL) at dealerships for all 56 of its models. The PAL will sell for less than $160 (US) plus installation.

“We know our music-loving customers have been clamouring for a system like this, but we were determined not to go into the market with one unless it was truly integrated, easy to use and affordable,” comments Nancy Philippart, executive director of GM accessories. “I think this system will be music to our customers’ ears.”

Both GM and Ford hope the iPod integration will help bolster their mindshare with younger car buyers. Both carmakers have struggled to attract young consumers in recent years.

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