Ford CEO sees sales boost from new tech

LAS VEGAS Thu Jan 7, 2010 4:12pm EST

Alan Mulally, President and CEO of Ford Motor Company, delivers his keynote speech at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas January 7, 2010. The show runs January 7-10. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Alan Mulally, President and CEO of Ford Motor Company, delivers his keynote speech at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas January 7, 2010. The show runs January 7-10.

Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co launched its new line of in-car technology on Thursday, which the No. 2 U.S. automaker hopes will give it an edge in the competitive market for new cars.

MyFord Touch, an electronic dashboard that lets drivers control climate, entertainment and other standard vehicle functions via voice commands and graphic touch screens, is the latest update to Ford's existing Sync product, based on Microsoft Corp technology.

MyFord Touch will be available on the new Lincoln MKX later this year and Ford Edge next year. Ford plans to make it standard on 80 percent of its vehicles over the next five years.

"Sync is selling Ford vehicles. This is a reason to buy Ford," Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally said in an interview before presenting the new technology at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. "It's just smart design. We think it's a value proposition."

Thirty-two percent of recent Ford buyers cited Sync as one of the reasons for purchasing, Mulally said in his presentation.

Ford hopes buttons mounted on the steering wheel, along with an easily readable screen in the driver's line of vision, will make manipulating car systems safer. The system also provides Internet access, but will only allow browsing by the driver when the car is stopped.

"The big difference is that Ford has an open architecture," said Mulally. Rather than build systems into the car, the company is basing functions on smartphones, which connect to the car via Bluetooth. Ford is working with outside developers such as Pandora Internet radio, MapQuest and Google Inc to provide a range of new services.

Ford, behind only General Motors Co among U.S. automakers, outperformed major rivals last month with a 33 percent increase in sales in a struggling market.

"We are really well positioned to serve the customers as the market comes back," said Mulally. He declined to forecast sales or profitability for 2010. Ford has already projected a profit for 2011.

"We just want to get a little more information on the strength of the recovery," said Mulally. The company will issue a 2010 outlook after reporting quarterly earnings around the end of this month, he added.

Ford shares closed up 2.55 percent at $11.66 on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by Bill Rigby; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and John Wallace)

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