Ford Inks Pact for In-Vehicle Wireless Services

FRAMINGHAM (08/01/2000) - In a bid to keep pace with its rivals, Ford Motor Co. plans to form a joint venture called Wingcast with Qualcomm Inc. to deliver in-vehicle wireless services, the two companies announced yesterday.

Wingcast will feature Internet access and safety services, such as emergency roadside assistance. For example, Wingcast could call for an ambulance if an airbag is deployed or offer directions to lost motorists.

At a press conference yesterday, Ford CEO Jacques Nasser described the joint venture as a means to transform the automobile "into the next mobile portal."

The world's No. 2 automaker wants to chase General Motors Corp., which launched a similar telematic service, OnStar, four years ago. Available as a factory-installed option on 32 GM vehicles, OnStar boasts over 270,000 subscribers and costs $199 for a basic emergency service annual subscription.

Detroit-based GM forecasts OnStar's revenue to grow from $61 million this year to $2.3 billion in 2005.

Ford has an emergency service program, called Lincoln Rescu, in Lincolns, Jaguars and Volvos, but Adam Weiner, an analyst at Gomez Advisors Inc. in Lincoln, Mass. said that service failed to gain the consumer appeal of OnStar.

"This attempts to level the playing field, in terms of what Ford is able to say it has vs. its competition," said Weiner. "People won't buy for bells and whistles like telematics, so it focuses things back onto the actual product: Is it a good car?"

The Wingcast service could launch as soon as late next year, officials at the Dearborne, Mich.-based automaker said. Ford hopes to equip over 1 million vehicles with the service by 2002 and most of its vehicles by 2004, officials said.

Wingcast and Qualcomm will develop a wireless telematics communication system for Ford vehicles. Other hardware vendors will also work with Wingcast to develop hardware for the service. Sprint Corp. will deliver cellular services to Wingcast until 2001, as part of a long-standing contract.

Wingcast will operate out of San Diego, close to Qualcomm's headquarters. Harel Kodesh, a former vice president of wireless technology at Microsoft Corp., has been selected as Wingcast's CEO.

Like GM, Ford also plans to license the technology to other automakers, such as Nissan Motor Co., which plans to use the Wingcast services in its luxury vehicles.

In June, GM licensed OnStar to Tokyo-based Honda Motor Co., which will equip its 2002 Acura RL luxury sedans with the in-vehicle communications system and services.

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