The Truth About Cars » Sync The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 14:03:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Sync Ford Leaves Microsoft For BlackBerry In Future SYNC Updates Sun, 23 Feb 2014 07:24:03 +0000

As automakers seek out technology partners for their on-board electronic devices, Ford is leaving Microsoft by the side of the road for a variant of BlackBerry’s QNX-based operating system in future updates to the Blue Oval’s long-suffering SYNC/MyFord Touch infotainment systems.

Road & Track and The Detroit News report the move would bring them in-line with Hyundai, Kia, BMW and Audi, all of whom already use the real-time embedded OS in a wide range of systems beyond infotainment, including driver assistance and active noise control. Chrysler’s UConnect System also uses QNX on its 8.4″ system, and is widely praised for its excellent user experience.

Though BlackBerry, QNX and Ford remain mum on the subject, Ford spokeswoman Susannah Wesley said the automaker would continue to work with Microsoft in spite of the impending move:

Ford works with a variety of partners and suppliers to develop and continuously improve our in-car connectivity systems for customers. We do not discuss details of our work with others for competitive reasons. We are absolutely committed to leading and innovating the smart technologies and in-vehicle connectivity that our customers want and value.

The Blue Oval’s infotainment systems have experienced the lash from Consumer Reports and J.D. Power & Associates as of late due to poor user experience, which also prompted the automaker to replace more of the systems’ touchscreen controls with physical in-car controls.

No word on when the QNX-powered systems will make their debut, though Ford made no mention of Microsoft or QNX during introductions of the 2015 F-150 and Mustang, nor was Microsoft brought up during the automaker’s 2014 CES appearances.

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Former Cadillac Marketing Head Don Butler to Head Ford’s In-Vehicle Comm Tech Wed, 08 Jan 2014 12:00:40 +0000 Don-Butler

While much of the attention focused on Ford Motor Company’s personnel news has been focused on CEO Alan Mulally’s announcement that he’s not leaving for Microsoft, FoMoCo has made another important decision, who is going to head one of Mulally’s pet projects, Ford’s in-vehicle communications technology. Automotive News reports that Don Butler, 50, the highly regarded longtime General Motors executive who most recently was in charge of Cadillac’s global growth strategy and before that headed the brand’s marketing, was named executive director of connected vehicles and services, effective immediately.

Butler’s departure from GM last year was a surprise both in and out of the company, and the appointment of a marketing person to head a technology driven unit might also seem surprising but Butler actually has a long technology resume.

In 2002, Butler was named vice president of commercial development for GM’s OnStar telematics unit. While at OnStar, he was responsible for the Virtual Advisor program, a voice-activated system for accessing weather and other information services. In 2009 he briefly left GM to run marketing for a Seattle telematics startup named Inrix Inc. before returning to the automaker the following year to take over marketing for Cadillac. Butler had a major role in the 2012 launch of the Cadillac User Experience telematics system, known as CUE.

Part of Butler’s job at Ford will be overseeing the expansion of the company’s Sync AppLink to an additional 3.4 million FoMoCo vehicles this year. Sync Applink lets users control smartphone apps with voice commands through the car’s infotainment system.

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Ford Opens Up SYNC To Any Interested Party Wed, 09 Jan 2013 17:49:16 +0000

Ford will be giving away its SYNC AppLink to any automaker or Tier 1 supplier, as it looks to make SYNC the standard for in-car connectivity systems.

By opening up the SYNC API (or Application Programming Interface) to other parties, Ford is hoping to ensure that SYNC becomes the dominant system, similar to how Google’s Android has entrenched itself as the leading mobile OS.

Wired Magazine’s Damon Lavrinc adroitly explains the significance of Ford’s announcement, and the impact it will have on the future of in-car infotainment

Every automaker features a different consumer-facing platform, so developers must work with a variety of APIs and SDKs[software development kits]. It’s annoying but doable for a massive outfit like Pandora, but damn near impossible for small developers. That’s where AppLink comes in. By offering AppLink to any automaker or Tier 1 supplier (the folks who build the hardware) and providing a universal API and SDK, Ford expands an app’s footprint across the industry and brings more developers into the Ford fold.

Of course, there are drawbacks; auto makers would have to cede control, moving from the systems they’ve spent time and money on, to one created by Ford. Bringing a competitor’s product into another OEM’s vehicle could also present a problem if an infotainment system has to have connectivity with something like a vehicle diagnostic system – as Lavrinc points out, that’s a boundary that no OEM is willing to tamper with.

On the other hand, there’s the less open approach that GM is taking, whereby it is making an SDK available for anyone interested in designing apps. This is more akin to Apple’s iOS system, and affords GM more control

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Ford: Wait, We Fixed MyFordTouch! Mon, 07 Nov 2011 20:18:33 +0000

MyFordTouch was supposed to build on the SYNC system’s momentum, extending Ford’s edge in mass-market infotainment gizmology. Instead, MyFord nearly killed the golden egg-laying goose, by earning Ford a sharp downgrade from Consumer Reports and widespread criticism. Ford has decided that 40-minute training sessions weren’t going to cut it as a response to the complaints that the system was balky and confusing, and The Blue Oval is now trumpeting the all-new for 2013 version of MyFordTouch. Because, in the words of Ford’s spokes-interior-designer-person

As you can see, with a software platform like SYNC, it’s easy to continuously improve and upgrade your system.

You know, in comparison to the all-new Ford Escape she’s sitting in. It’s still not quite as easy as a computer software update: instead of downloading the reflash, you have to go into a dealer to get the upgrade. Meanwhile, this is just the latest hurdle in the hot-hot in-car gizmo side of the business. The big one comes in 2014, when the government issue rules on distraction-mitigation in voice-activated in-car systems. That could make this minor public beta testing fiasco look like nothing…

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Quote Of The Day: Hands Free At High Speeds Edition Wed, 31 Aug 2011 20:10:19 +0000

[Skip ahead to 2:08 (or don't)]

It’s the stuff of a Ray LaHood nightmare. Automotive News [sub]‘s lede comes screaming out of the blackness:

BERLIN – Ford Motor Co. has adapted its Sync in-car connectivity system to cope with high speeds on German autobahns.

But you can’t wake up, Mr Secretary of Transportation. For this is no dream…

Luckily, it is happening far away in Germany… and Ford’s not even doing all that much to change its hands-free entertainment and communication system. Per Jason Johnson, user interface design engineer for Sync product development,

Ford had to do more than simply program the technology to understand different European languages. The system also has to allow for how Europeans drive… For instance, at autobahn speeds, Ford found that its navigation system wasn’t giving sufficient warning that the desired exit was coming up. The system had to be reprogrammed to give extra warning

Otherwise, Germans should feel free to use their hands-free systems at whatever speed they happen to be driving. After all, if your hands are on the wheel, it’s not a distraction, amiright? Ray? Anybody?

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Ford Sued For Sync Sat, 09 Jul 2011 11:58:34 +0000


Ford’s Sync doesn’t get a break. It attracted undue attention from LaHood’s distracted driving crusade. Consumer Reports had issues with the system. Sync sank Ford in the 2011 J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey. Can it get any worse?

Yes, it can. Ford is being sued for patent infringement.

Bainbridge Island-based Eagle Harbor Holdings  has filed a lawsuit against Ford, alleging infringement of seven patents.  The company says that Ford infringed on seven of its patents for the technology behind Sync and some other safety technologies such as Active Park Assist, Blind-Spot Identification System with Cross Traffic Alert, Integrated Control System for Stability Control, and MyKey.

According to the Seattle Times, Eagle Harbor began developing the technologies more than 10 years ago. Talks between Eagle Harbor and Ford began in 2002, says the lawsuit. According to the filing, Ford stopped communication with Eagle Harbor in 2008 and began incorporating the technology into its products over the next year.

Does that mean Ford will be out of Sync? Not really. Should Ford lose, it will be out of a little money.

“We’d much rather do business with Ford as customers than have to file this lawsuit against them. Their business could mean millions,” said Jeffrey Harmes, general counsel for Eagle Harbor.

Eagle Harbor founders Dan and Joe Preston also founded Airbiquity, a Seattle vehicle-services technology company, in 1997. The Seattle Times says that “Airbiquity’s technology is in General Motors’ OnStar wireless platform, which connects motorists to information services.”

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The Truth About MyFord Touch Fri, 06 May 2011 15:24:34 +0000
Editor’s Note: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Byron Hurd of SpeedSportLife, in his TTAC debut.

There has been an almost-palpable sensation of glee propagating through the various import-leaning car communities I frequent. For nearly two years, they’ve had to sit back and listen to the other guys relentlessly gushing about domestic brand turnarounds. With only a few notable speed bumps, it has been a pretty good run so far for post-bailout Detroit. Market share is up; buyers are coming back; product is improving–a sad state of affairs for the import fanboy. Then, out of nowhere, those cunning deviants over at Motor Trend—known of course for setting the magazine landscape ablaze with their out-of-left-field criticisms and take-no-prisoners, “gotcha”-style journalism—dropped a Molotov cocktail into this Texas-desert-dry landscape of domestic love.

The 2011 Explorer, they said, quite simply sucks.
“Now hold on,” you might protest, “they didn’t say that.” And maybe they didn’t in so many words, but as Jonny’s follow-up makes clear, it’s pretty much how they felt about the example they tested. And really, does it matter what anybody said? The finishing order of a comparison test is much like that of a race (or if you’re an Orioles fan like me, the AL East standings). First place is the winner, second place is the first loser, and last place is reserved for cars purchased only by the uneducated, unworthy co-workers whom you spend so much time slandering in the company of your Audi-driving Internet friends. I can only speculate as to the exact details (I don’t drive an Audi) but I’d assume the conversations largely revolve around themes such as poverty, racial discrimination, and—like any discussion about anything on the Internet, ever—pornography.

But I digress. While much to-do was made about their Explorer’s pre-production status, there was another recurring theme that I’d rather talk about, one that has been in the news a bit lately in flammable proximity to phrases like “technical service bulletin” and “frustrated owners.” I’m referring of course to MyFord Touch, Ford’s latest and flashiest SYNC-cessory.

Yes, accessory. For all the press Ford has been getting, positive or negative, there’s a serious absence of understanding as to what MyFord Touch actually is, and for that matter, what it does. MyFord Touch is essentially an extension of MyFord, the interior settings customization option that Ford has been offering for several model years in some variation or another. MyFord lets you select ambient lighting colors and brightness, display functions and colors, and other nifty settings that have little or nothing to do with anything related to the functionality of the car.

MyFord Touch extends that customization to the gauge cluster and infotainment system and offers you a pretty LCD touch-screen (hence the “Touch”) interface from which to control, well, almost everything. But wait, there’s more. Depending on the car and the trim, the Touch option also replaces many center stack controls with either raised, touch-sensitive faux-buttons or a glossy, piano-black touch panel on which more frequently-needed controls such as audio adjustments, HVAC settings and their various on/off switches are duplicated.

Remember too that all of these functions can be controlled by voice through the SYNC interface—triple redundancy. And that sums it up pretty well. By the time you’ve optioned your Ford up to the point where Touch even enters into the equation, you have probably already purchased at least two alternative control interfaces. That’s because MyFord Touch is not SYNC. It’s just a pretty interface that adds another layer of visual panache and techno-gee-whizardry to an already robust infotainment package. You don’t need MyFord Touch if you don’t want MyFord Touch.

And why would you? Well, for one thing, it’s cool. It’s the automotive entertainment equivalent of the iPad—pointless, redundant and expensive. You may know this concept by its more common colloquialism: luxury. That’s what MyFord Touch is, a luxury. It’s a premium option designed for buyers who need to be seen with an expensive gadget, and like any expensive gadget, it will have its share of growing pains. Just learning how to touch the screen properly takes practice (The trick? Just fat-finger it. Hovering delicately over the option you want, waiting for the road surface and suspension to fall into perfect harmony before jabbing daintily at the ¼”-thick bar representing your favorite Lady Gaga single is an exercise in anal-retentive futility. Aim in the general direction of what you want and mash that sucker with ham-fisted authority. You’re welcome.)

That’s not to say that MyFord Touch itself is faultless. Learning the proper technique for prodding at the interface is just the start. Even with several weeks’ worth Touch-equipped press cars under my belt, I still have to stop and think about what it is I’m trying to do. Sometimes, the interface is so unintuitive that I jab at the SYNC button with frustration and curtly inform the synthetic slave girl behind the dash what exactly it is I want “her” to do.

There are plenty of “hey, neat” moments too. The touch-screen provides a handy interface for managing Bluetooth devices, allowing you to connect multiple gadgets simultaneously, assigning each a priority and function. Want to stream music from your iPod touch but make calls from your Blackberry? Stream music from your Droid but use your passenger’s iPhone for phone calls? No sweat. It’s all right there in the phone settings menu. Tech geeks can tweak to their hearts’ content.

Well-executed too are the customizable LCD displays flaking the speedometer (Certain models get only one, mounted dead-center. Focus buyers, I’m looking at you). They share the duties of the typical center-mounted multifunction display that has recently become somewhat of a staple. The left-side screen focuses on vehicle systems (tachometer, fuel economy display, trip info, vehicle health, etc.) and the right is a further extension of the infotainment system, allowing the driver to choose quickly from different audio/video sources or adjust those already selected using wheel-mounted buttons—yes, another layer of control.

The truth is, the story of MyFord Touch is much like that of any other fancy gadget. Early adopters get the worst of it, dealing with patches and updates and pesky issues that never seem to go away. Such is the way of modern software, unfortunately. To most of us, it’ll never matter. Nobody’s forcing it on us, and we’re content to choose something else. To fanboys, it’ll be a reminder of why they’re so certain that Ford can’t build a good car.

Hey, everybody needs something to hang on to.

Byron Hurd’s “Lord Byron” column can be found here at SpeedSportLife

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Get An All Expense Paid Sync And MyFord Touch Course. At Your Ford Dealer Mon, 07 Feb 2011 12:55:17 +0000

Ford brought two pieces of good news for their dealers at this year’s NADA meeting: The dealers will get more cars. And they will get more cash. But wait, there will be less …

Ford will increase its production targeted at its U.S. dealers by 13 percent this quarter. If the market wants more, Ford will make more. They will even lay on more shifts, says the Wall Street Journal.

What usually makes dealers much happier: Ford will dole out extra spiffs. Ford dealers will get $50 for every vehicle they order with Sync and $75 if they order cars equipped with Sync and MyFord Touch. This “technology allowance” is meant to reimburse the dealers for the extra time it takes to teach customers how to use the in-vehicle technology.

Dealers had been complaining that the new technology eats up their precious time. Automotive News [sub] wrote recently that “delivering a new vehicle used to take a dealer 45 minutes. It now could take up to two hours for some. That’s productivity time lost by the salesperson who could be making another sale instead of teaching a customer three different ways to turn on or adjust the air conditioning.”

So that was the good news. “Later Sunday, Czubay and Jim Farley, Ford’s global marketing chief, told Lincoln dealers that Ford wants to reduce the retail network from 434 showrooms to about 325 in the country’s 130 largest markets,” writes the Freep. There had to be a catch.

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Ford SYNC Now Available With Feature-Disabling Feature Thu, 08 Jul 2010 15:01:20 +0000

We’ve devoted considerable bandwidth here at TTAC to the inevitable conflict between Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood’s campaign against distracted driving and the ever-increasing array of distractions offered by popular in-car electronic systems like Ford’s SYNC. While automakers are forever striving to offer more and more connectivity, politicians are waking to the realization that these systems prevent drivers from focusing on their driving. And now, it appears, Ford is finally getting on the same page as the pols. The DetNews reports that SYNC-equipped 2011 Fords will come with a “do not disturb” feature that

locks out capabilities “not relevant to the task of driving while the vehicle is in motion.” Ford also is barring any action that requires typing on a keypad and limiting lists of navigation and phone choices to fewer entries — like phone contacts or recent phone calls.

With this pre-emptive strike, Ford is trying to protect a system it says helps sell cars from regulation as a dangerous in-car distraction. Will a “do not disturb” button really help prevent accidents? Ford had better hope so, and it had better hope the data comes in looking mighty conclusive. Otherwise, systems like SYNC could find themselves on the wrong side of Washington DC in the near future.

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Volt-Google Android Cooperation Presages Next-Gen Onstar System Tue, 18 May 2010 16:37:32 +0000

GM’s OnStar division is preparing for a big push into new info-tainment and connectivity services, and it’s launching the effort at Google’s I/O conference starting tomorrow. First up is a new Google-maps-based navigation feature for Android phones running the Chevy Volt mobile app, featured in the video above [presser here]. Though this new navigation system won’t be available at launch, but will emerge in a 2.0 version of the Volt mobile app, it hints at a new direction for OnStar, which traditionally markets itself as a safety feature. A senior (anonymous, sorry) source at GM took a moment to explain where this is all heading….

In essence, OnStar is being developed to be “seamless” with mobile smartphones, and the Volt is the guinea pig for this next generation of capabilities. In addition to the recently-added navigation features, the Volt mobile app will be able to

  • Charge status display – plugged in or not and voltage (120V or 240V)
  • Flexibility to “Charge Now” or schedule charge timing
  • Display percentage of battery charge level, electric and total ranges
  • Ability to manually set grid-friendly charge mode for off-peak times when electricity rates are lowest
  • Send text or email notifications for charge reminders, interruptions and full charge
  • Display miles per gallon, electric only miles, and odometer readings
  • Shows miles per gallon, EV miles and miles driven for last trip and lifetime
  • Remotely start the vehicle to pre-condition the interior temperature

Because OnStar can securely communicate with vehicle controls, GM believes that integrating mobile phones creates “almost no end to the cool things we can do in this space.” And that means eventually migrating these capabilities to other vehicles besides the Volt. Our source explains:

We can do this because Volt has the next-gen hardware for OnStar. That hardware goes to all GM products for 2011 model year…so of course, we’d be able to proliferate the approach.

Of course, “some infrastructure issues” are still standing in the way of an official announcement, but we’re told to expect a “re-launch” of the OnStar brand “within the next couple of months.” OnStar’s “killer app… a human being who actually thinks and acts on the other end of the blue button” will remain the centerpiece of the brand, but building infotainment and mobile integration into the next-generation of OnStar as a compliment to traditional safety-oriented features is seen as the best way to grow the brand.

And though the navigation feature that will be highlighted this week is available on Android phones only, GM isn’t putting all its eggs in one basket. Apple and RIM (Blackberry) will be fully integrated as well, and a new Human Machine Interface (HMI) would not require a partnership as Android is free and open to developers. GM is apparently in talks with several outfits to develop an HMI architecture that is “truly open.”

Onstar has always been a bit of an odd duck: it’s a tech toy for people who don’t have or like tech toys. The simple function and human interaction make it ideal for the safety-conscious yet tech-unsavvy demographic… in other words, people who aren’t married to a cell phone. But as cell phones with features like navigation and roadside assistance become increasingly common, even among non-early-adopters, OnStar’s traditional mission (peace of mind) is becoming less relevant. And unlike Ford’s SYNC system, OnStar hasn’t targeted the tech-for-tech’s-sake crowd with entertainment features and phone-car integration. If the next-generation of OnStar can blend its traditional strengths with the kinds of features that allegedly brings younger buyers into SYNC with Ford, GM will be making one of many necessary steps it needs to around perceptions of its business.

After all, mobile phone culture is already leaving quite the impact on car marketing.

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IIHS: Hand-Held Cell Phone Bans Don’t Work Mon, 01 Feb 2010 17:56:17 +0000

The Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of the Insurance Institutes For Highway Safety, reports that an audit of insurance claim filings shows no reduction in claim amounts in states with bans on cell phone use in cars. According to the report:

HLDI researchers calculated monthly collision claims per 100 insured vehicle years (a vehicle year is 1 car insured for 1 year, 2 insured for 6 months each, etc.) for vehicles up to 3 years old during the months immediately before and after hand-held phone use was banned while driving in New York (Nov. 2001), the District of Columbia (July 2004), Connecticut (Oct. 2005), and California (July 2008). Comparable data were collected for nearby jurisdictions without such bans. This method controlled for possible changes in collision claim rates unrelated to the bans — changes in the number of miles driven due to the economy, seasonal changes in driving patterns, etc.

Month-to-month fluctuations in rates of collision claims in jurisdictions with bans didn’t change from before to after the laws were enacted. Nor did the patterns change in comparison with trends in jurisdictions that didn’t have such laws.

Because the HLDI didn’t research phone usage to draw a causal connection between phone use and insurance claims, this study can’t prove whether hands-free phone use is as dangerous and handheld phoning while driving, or if the bans simply don’t limit the use of handheld phones while driving. Given the challenges of handheld phone ban enforcement and the fact that hands-free phone use hasn’t been proven to be less dangerous, either possiblity is equally likely. The HLDI concludes:

Whatever the reason, the key finding is that crashes aren’t going down where hand-held phone use has been banned. This finding doesn’t auger well for any safety payoff from all the new laws that ban phone use and texting while driving.

This ambiguity means more headaches for automakers like Ford, who hope to market hands-free capabilities like those enabled by the Sync system on fears of distracted driving. Had this study been able to find a link between hands-free laws and a decrease in insurance claims, that marketing angle might still have the strength of a fear factor behind it. But for every study like this that fails to conclusively prove the safety advantages of hands-free technology, the possibility grows that this technology will end up being seen as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

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Denso Jumping Into Sync Wars Tue, 12 Jan 2010 20:00:24 +0000 Hmmm... almost. (

Automotive News [sub] reports that supplier giant Denso, which is 23 percent owned by Toyota, will launch a competitor to Ford’s Sync system. The system, named Blue Harmony, will provide music, directions, e-mail, Internet radio, news headlines and other driver distractions through a touchscreen on the center of the instrument panel, according to Denso sources. The system will use Denso apps to bring Pandora internet radio, Facebook, Flickr and other web-based services to the Blue Harmony platform.

According to AN [sub]:

Unlike some voice-activated infotainment systems on the market, BlueHarmony does not require specific voice prompts to, for example, play a particular song over the vehicle’s sound system.

What this means exactly isn’t clear, but apparently the system allows users to create a new station on the customizable Pandora system simply by saying, “I want to make a new Pandora station.” Another confusing point: whether the system is based on Microsoft’s platform, which underpins Blue Harmony’s established competitor from Ford.

Denso hasn’t announced which OEMs will feature the Blue Harmony system when it goes into production in 2011, but Toyota is a safe guess. Ford has said that Sync-equipped vehicles move off the lots faster, and thanks to Kia’s recent decision to jump into the fray, the voice-activated media system is starting to look like part of the price of competition for value brands in the US market. At least until Ray LaHood realizes that they don’t actually reduce the dangers of distracted driving and bans them.

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Kia Uvo Syncs To Ford’s Level Thu, 31 Dec 2009 15:24:28 +0000 Uvo?

Amid the cries of shock around the blogosphere at the sudden death of the Kia Borrego, another tidbit of more consequential Kia news remains undercovered. And it’s actually bigger Ford news than anything else. Ford had deal with Microsoft for exclusive access to the technology underlying its Sync system. But with Ford’s 18 month term of exclusivity expired, Kia is set to formally announce its Sync-alike at next Tuesday’s International Consumer Electronics Show. Shooting for the middle ground between Ford’s apt “Sync” brand name and Fiat’s asinine “Blue&Me” moniker, Kia has called the system “Uvo” (Short for “Your Voice,” believe it or not).

It’s no surprise to see Microsoft’s technology appearing in Korean cars, but the fact that Hyundai group is gracing its Kia brand with the technology is a bit unexpected. According to Automotive News [sub], no plans have been announced for Uvo to appear in Hyundai-branded cars. By placing a technology that Ford swears has saved its sales bacon in cars branded with its value marque, Hyundai is going for Ford’s value-proposition jugular. Sure, Microsoft and Kia insist that Uvo will be distinct from Sync, but the differences are likely to be cosmetic at best. Uvo will debut sometime in 2010 on “an unnamed Kia vehicle,” probably the Amanti-replacing Cadenza, which is rumored to launch later next year. Here’s hoping Kia markets Uvo as an entertainment system, instead of spuriously pushing it as a “safety feature.”

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