Ford Motor Co.’s philosophy on navigation systems is if you can’t beat them, join them.

“The reality is there are very affordable, portable navigation devices,” John Schneider, Ford’s chief engineer-multimedia and entertainment, tells Ward’s.

“If you can get a $150 Garmin portable, and you put it up against an (OEM’s) $2,000 or $1,500 navigation system, people are going to think ‘OK, the embedded system has enhancements because it’s integrated, but for $150, geez, I’ll buy the portable.’”

As companies such as Garmin Inc. and TomTom Inc. continue to roll out less expensive and more advanced portable navigation devices, consumers are shying away from OEM units.

In 2008, auto makers installed navigation systems in 28% of all U.S. light vehicles sold, according to Ward’s data. That figure has dwindled to 24.3% through mid-2010.

And the trend seems likely to continue, as new competition comes from smartphones that can access emerging, and highly sophisticated, Internet-based navigation apps.

Delphi Corp., which is developing technology allowing drivers to access their smartphone features via an in-vehicle display, says 40% of cell-phone sales in North America are smartphones.

By 2012, that number is expected to reach 60%. Additionally, 51% of U.S. vehicle owners have smartphones, with 30% already using their devices while driving and another 30% looking to do so, the supplier says.

Delphi’s research indicates by 2013, every new vehicle sold in the U.S. will have smartphone connectivity, and by 2016, a vehicle’s smartphone interface will be an important purchase factor for new-car buyers.

Rather than concede navigation to the aftermarket, Ford has worked to lower the cost of its systems by integrating competitive technologies into the vehicle.

“Instead of utilizing the traditional Tier 1 supplier, we’re turning to the same suppliers winning in consumer electronics,” Schneider says.” We see them as leading the industry and being on the cutting edge of navigation.”

Ford offers a variety of navigation options, beginning with basic turn-by-turn directions made available on any vehicle equipped with the auto maker’s Sync multi-media system.

More advanced is its new MyFord Touch technology that offers full map-based navigation shown on two 4.2-in. (10.7-cm) liquid-crystal-display screens on the instrument panel and an 8-in. (20.3-cm) display in the center console.

For full 3-D map-based navigation, complete with full-color graphics, the MyFord Touch infotainment system offers an upgradable SD card loaded with directions displayed on the touch screen.

The setup requires no expensive hardware or “head unit” electronics and is fully upgradeable, the auto maker says.

The technology leverages voice-recognition software, integrated global-positioning technology and a driver-provided Bluetooth-capable mobile phone to deliver personalized traffic reports, turn-by-turn directions and up-to-date information, including business listings, news, sports and weather, Ford says.

MyFord Touch currently is standard on Limited and Sport editions of the Ford Edge cross/utility vehicle, and can be had as a $1,000 option on the base-level Edge SEL. MyLincoln Touch comes standard on all Lincoln vehicles.

Ford says it plans to offer the technology on all models.

For those who wish to forgo the cost of the $795 SD-card device, the Sync technology offers verbal “turn-by-turn” directions through the driver’s cell phone, which receives information from an off-board network of servers operated by Ford supplier partner TeleNav Inc.

While Ford’s navigation technologies aren’t free, they are less expensive than most competitive OEM systems, which can cost upwards of $2,000.

Ford’s strategy also provides a more robust alternative to competitive systems, says spokesman Alan Hall.

Current OEM navigation systems require a DVD reader or onboard hard drive to store and access map data, he points out.

“We evolved to the SD card,” Hall says. “We’ve made it more affordable, because we got rid of these electronics systems in the car. There’s no DVD, no hard drive, which means less moving parts for higher quality.”

Ford plans to do away with all onboard technology, instead allowing information provided by a user’s cell phone to be displayed on an in-vehicle screen, much like the system Delphi is touting.

However, current Bluetooth connections cannot accommodate all relevant information, Schneider notes.

“I fully expect, in the not-too-distant future, we’ll converge on a standard (allowing) a higher level of interactivity with smartphones than Bluetooth (offers),” he says.

bpope@wardsauto.com