DETROIT -- The next generation of Ford Motor Co.'s Sync infotainment system will let drivers turn their vehicles into Wi-Fi hot spots.
Occupants can access the Internet by inserting a mobile broadband modem, also known as an air card, into a USB port in the vehicle.
Once connected, they can use their existing service plans -- and their own portable devices, such as laptop computers or smart phones -- to go onto the Internet.
The next-generation Sync is due next year. People who have the current version of Sync won't be able to upgrade to the next generation.
Ford follows General Motors Co., Chrysler Group and Volkswagen AG in providing Wi-Fi services in some of their U.S. vehicles. The other three automakers are using routers supplied by San Francisco's Autonet Mobile. The router sells for about $500, with service plans starting at $29 a month.
Sync is available throughout most of the Ford lineup. It comes standard on Lincolns and on top-of-the-line Ford and Mercury vehicles. Other vehicles offer it as a $395 option. Most services are free.
Ford introduced Sync at the International Consumer Electronics Show in 2007. The technology's basic function is to allow hands-free operation of cell phones and portable music players.
In 2008, the automaker added vehicle-diagnostic reports to the list of Sync services, as well as 911 Assist, which automatically notifies emergency services if a vehicle is involved in a serious crash.
This year, Ford gave Sync users access to real-time traffic, directions and information such as news, sports and weather. As with 911 Assist, the traffic, directions and information service relays information through a mobile phone, which has to be paired with Sync. Traffic, directions and information is free for the first three years of vehicle ownership and costs $60 a year afterward.
The automaker has signaled additional enhancements to the system. On Friday, it said will make programming instructions available to outside developers who want to create voice-controlled, mobile applications to run on the Sync software platform.
It began by allowing six computer-science students at the University of Michigan-Dearborn to create experimental applications. One of the “apps” would allow drivers in Sync-equipped vehicles to follow each other in a convoy by having the lead car relay turn-by-turn instructions to the other vehicles. A second streams audio, such as Internet radio, into the car.