TOKYO – When Honda Motor Co. Ltd. launches the all-new ’04 Acura TL for the North American market, the luxury sedan will offer hands-free Bluetooth phone capability supplied by Johnson Controls Inc.

Acura will market the feature as HandsFreeLink, which will be standard on all TLs.

The system creates a wireless connection to mobile phones equipped with Bluetooth, a communications technology allowing voice activation and enabling electronic devices to “talk” to each other. (See related story: Acura Hopes TL Will Turn Tide)

The HandsFreeLink system will recognize whenever the vehicle owner’s Bluetooth-equipped phone is in the car, enabling the driver to make and receive calls using the TL’s voice-recognition and audio systems. The package includes an electronic control module and microphone in the overhead console.

Jeffrey Edwards, JCI’s group vice president and general manager-North America/Japan, sees significant growth on the automotive horizon for Bluetooth technology.

“We believe consumers are excited about it,” Edwards tells Ward's at the auto show here. “We believe the way we can integrate our product into the vehicle is really the key because if it’s integrated seamlessly in the vehicle, we believe that will go a long way in helping consumers become more comfortable with it.”

The Plymouth, MI-based vehicle interiors specialist has shopped its Bluetooth technology to auto makers for more than three years under the name BlueConnect.

The ’04 Chrysler Pacifica is the first vehicle offering the JCI technology under the name UConnect. The factory-installation price is $275. The supplier declines to disclose the current take rate for UConnect.

JCI shows Tokyo its Railport overhead system used in the new Ford F-150.

Also at the Tokyo show, JCI shows off its Railport overhead system, which allows customers to snap in and slide modular storage devices, a DVD player and first-aid kits on two parallel rails running along the vehicle headliner.

The supplier hasn’t announced a customer yet in the Asia/Pacific region, but in the U.S. the new Ford F-150 fullsize pickup offers Railport, and other vehicles soon will launch with the feature as well, Edwards says.

JCI has been in Japan for 30 years, and in the last six it has expanded its design, manufacturing and customer-service capabilities and added an engineering technical center in Yokohama. In 2001, JCI opened its Asian Design Center in Ayase City, Kanagawa, Japan, where 3-dimensional modelers and engineers develop prototypes for Asian customers.

Despite weak vehicle sales in Japan due to a lingering recession, Edwards says JCI is profitable in Japan and throughout the Asia/Pacific.

“As we look at the Asia/Pacific market, it represents the largest growth opportunity for the next five to 10 years, even considering the challenges with Japan,” Edwards says. “Certainly most of that growth is coming from China, but we show growth in the Japanese market as well.”

JCI and its joint-venture partners employ 9,200 people at 33 facilities throughout the Asia/Pacific, including Australia, China, India, Japan and Thailand. The supplier ships interior products for more than 110 vehicles produced in the region.