Windows on the road: Microsoft Auto becoming entertainment platform for more cars
DETROIT– Microsoft Corp . plans to announce another deal with a major automaker to use its Microsoft Auto operating system by the end of the year, Martin Thall, general manager of Microsoft’s automotive business unit, told the Detroit Free Press during a Tuesday meeting in Detroit.
The global software giant already has two deals worldwide.
One, in the United States, is with Ford Motor Co ., which last year used the operating system to launch Sync, a wireless hands-free communication and entertainment system. The other, which predated Ford, is with the Italian automaker Fiat SpA, which resulted in the launch of Blue&Me in 2006.
However, the exclusive rights to Microsoft Auto in the United States end later this year—opening the door for full-scale competition in the growing area of fully integrated in-car computer systems, which can assist in communications, entertainment and a variety of other functions, such as diagnostics and safety.
General Motors Corp . has offered some of these functions through its subscription-based OnStar feature for years. But Ford’s Sync, which is sold for a one time price of $395, upped the ante.
While Thall praised Ford for being a pioneer in adopting its technology aggressively, he said Microsoft also wants to satisfy all the other automakers interested in its products.
“Demand exceeds our ability to please everyone,” Thall said.
Other automakers, he said, are interested in catching up to Ford. Last year, more than 30,000 customers opted for Sync, making it one of the fastest-growing new products in the industry.
Sync is now offered in 12 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles, and Ford plans to expand the technology to nearly all of its vehicles by the end of the year in hopes of putting its products on the consideration list for many consumers.
Microsoft has an ambitious plan to roll out its operating system and other products in the United States and globally.
Through automakers such as Ford and Fiat , as well as key suppliers such as Magneti Marelli , Siemens VDO and Alpine , Microsoft is hoping to help automakers meet their customers’ needs in various parts of the market.
In the near-term, Thall said Microsoft will be focused on integrating various functions, such as navigation systems, traffic reports, and point-of-interest directories, among other items.
Fiat, for example, will soon be rolling out an enhancement to its Blue&Me system called Ecodrive, which gives drivers feedback about their driving to help them lessen their impact on the environment. Longer term, though, Thall sees Microsoft bringing more value to the lives of drivers as it strengthens its position online. That includes, he said, the ability to bring more relevant advertising to drivers, based on their location.
Thall, who drives a Cadillac Escalade with OnStar, said Microsoft wants to develop solutions that are relevant and accessible for everyday drivers. Ultimately, he said, Microsoft wants to become an “integral part of the vehicle.”