In a bid to pass its top Motor City rival, Ford Motor this week launched a joint venture called Wingcast with San Diego-based partner Qualcomm to deliver in-vehicle wireless services.
But analysts said that as more automakers offer telematics - in-vehicle communications such as cellular calling, Internet access and emergency assistance services - these high-end novelties will soon become standard options on most vehicles. Nonetheless, telematics offer the opportunity for new revenue.
Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford, the world's No. 2 automaker, plans to equip more than 1 million vehicles with Wingcast services by 2002 and outfit the rest of its models by 2004. But the lead in the telematic race belongs to General Motors Corp., the world's No. 1 automaker.
Option or Standard?
Detroit-based GM launched its OnStar telematic service as an option on Cadillacs four years ago. OnStar now boasts more than 270,000 subscribers.
Hiro Mori, an analyst at Automotive Consulting Group Inc. in Ann Arbor, Mich., said the top automakers hope to derive new income streams from telematic services, but profits have yet to materialize for GM.
"GM has been building up its subscriptions, but it has been giving OnStar access away as a promotion," said Mori. "Eventually, telematics will be just another standard option on a vehicle."