DETROIT – Ford Motor Co. has been fielding calls from competitors interested in acquiring its in-car Sync system, says an executive overseeing multimedia technology for the auto maker.

“We’re open to (licensing the technology), because we still think we’re ahead of everybody else,” Doug VanDagens, director-Connected Service Solutions, tells Ward’s. “We’re considering it.”

VanDagens says if Ford were to make the technology available, it would offer only an earlier version of Sync.

Ford currently is on the third generation of Sync. Launched in ’08, the original system allowed for voice-activated control of audio devices, phone calls and text messaging, but more features have been added since then.

“It’s like the Silicon Valley model, everyone licenses to one another,” VanDagens says. “What you do is develop quickly and move on to the next set of features and license the existing feature set.”

The latest offering by Ford – MyFord Touch – builds on the capabilities of Sync, giving consumers greater control over vehicle functions such as climate, audio and navigation, while also minimizing driver distraction.

The system, along with Lincoln and Mercury versions, uses reconfigurable displays and allows for an increased number of voice commands.

Ford, which developed the Sync software platform with Microsoft Corp., lost exclusive rights to the technology in November, although Ford patented the Sync name.

But because of its significant head start, VanDagens is confident Ford will maintain leadership in the area, even as new players begin working with Microsoft on competitive versions.

Kia Motors America Inc. earlier this month launched its own version of Sync, dubbed UVO.

Co-developed with Microsoft and based on Windows Embedded Auto software, the Korean auto maker says the system is “an easy-to-use, hands-free solution that allows drivers and passengers to answer and place phone calls, receives and responds to text messages, access music from a variety of media sources and create customer music experience.”

“The applications (Kia) launched were the same we partnered with Microsoft on out of the gate; those were prepackaged” VanDagens says, implying Kia has a long way to go to match Ford’s level of expertise. “My guess is Microsoft had a heavy hand (in the development).”

Kia did not immediately return phone calls for comment.

Although Kia and other auto makers are exploring the technology, VanDagens says he’s more “flattered” than intimidated by the competition.

“Actually, we thought this would happen a lot faster than it has,” he says. “We’re at least a couple of steps ahead.”

Ford offers Sync throughout most of its lineup as a $395 option. Kia has yet to announce the price of UVO, which was unveiled at the Detroit auto show this month and will debut this summer in the ’11 Sorento cross/utility vehicle before migrating to other models.

VanDagens also says Ford’s participation at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where CEO Alan Mulally presented the opening speech the past two years, has paid dividends.

The show, the largest of its kind, typically attracts scores of technophiles, but rarely auto makers.

“CES definitely gives us great exposure and helps us conquest people that may not have bought a Ford,” he says.

“We were absolutely mobbed (at the show), and it proved to all of us that we have to be there. It’s a good show to reach out to an influential crowd and be in touch with what’s happening.”