PARIS -- Visteon Corp. is racing to help automakers fit their models with USB ports.
If the supplier can act fast enough, it expects to win big.
"It's a major but short-term opportunity," Hans Eric Destree, Visteon commercial director of mobile electronics, told Automotive News Europe, a sister publication of Automotive News.
"We'll only get an 18- to 20-month window on this before other providers enter the market."
By linking a USB port to a car's entertainment system, an automaker can offer customers audio and video options unavailable in most other models.
That means a customer can play music loaded onto a memory stick in the vehicle.
The stereo system recognizes the USB port as if it were the car's CD changer, so the car's stereo controls can be used to scroll through the songs on the memory stick.
Visteon says the benefits of the technology are cost and convenience.
"A CD changer is two or three times the cost of the USB interface," said Ian Randall, Visteon's mobile electronics project leader. "Those CDs would have only 70 to 80 tracks. With a 1-gigabyte stick, you can get 400 or 500 songs."
With all of that entertainment on a pocket-sized stick, a car owner no longer has to risk leaving stacks of CDs in the car, where they can get damaged or stolen.
Visteon's connector has a USB port for the memory stick as well as an input for an Apple iPod MP3 player.
The in-car USB will be introduced on a production car in early February, Destree said.
He declined to name the automaker but said that a German carmaker displayed a USB port in one of its models in September at the Frankfurt auto show.
At the show, Volkswagen said its Golf, Golf Plus and Jetta cars and Touran van would offer a USB interface soon. VW did not name the supplier.
Also at the show, the Smart Crosstown concept vehicle featured a USB port.
For safety reasons, the USB interface cannot be placed on the front panel of the car stereo. "We think the glove box is a good location," Randall said.
Other potential automaker customers -- Destree says six are interested -- have different concepts for the interface, including mounting the port on the center console.