Car giant Ford has formed a joint venture company with Qualcomm to develop in-car wireless communications technology.
Ford says products from the new company, called Wingcast, will be in nearly all US cars by 2004. That equates to upwards of four million new vehicles that year.
Ford would not reveal whether it plans to roll out the products outside the US. Qualcomm develops wireless products using code division multiple access technology.
No details were released about how much money the two companies plan to invest in Wingcast, but Ford will be the majority shareholder. Qualcomm and a third company, Cartell, which sells advanced communications equipment, are minority shareholders.
Research conducted by Ford has revealed that car buyers will be willing to pay between $10 and $30 for in-car communications, which is becoming known as telematics. Prime buyers will be in upmarket brands, such as Jaguar, Volvo and Lincoln.
Wingcast will sell products to other car manufacturers, and Nissan North America has already said it will be incorporating the devices in some of its high-end models.
Research company IDC predicts that the telematics market will grow from $1bn in 1998 to $42bn by 2010. "It's an opportunity for the car companies to stimulate their revenue stream, so Ford needed to come up with a strategy to participate," said Nick Lobaccaro, an analyst at brokerage Lehmann Brothers.
Wingcast has hired a former Microsoft executive, Harel Kodesh, as its chief executive. Kodesh will keep the new company at arm's length from Ford, which in time will allow Wingcast to be sold off as a separate company.
In the US, Ford is playing catch-up with arch-rival General Motors, which has had telematics in its more expensive vehicles for several years.
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