NEW YORK – Teaming up with a Europe-based international supplier of navigation systems, Fiat is offering an optional $400 TomTom Blue&Me portable navigation device for the ’12-model 500 in the U.S.

Using bridge technology, PNDs for cars is common in Europe, but this is the first time TomTom has supplied a North American model with a device like the one in the Fiat 500.

TomTom also provides mapping software and navigation-system hardware to suppliers, such as Denso and TeleNav. A spokeswoman says company products are used by BMW and other OEMs, as well.

A big advantage to the PND is its less-expensive price. Most navigation systems built into the vehicle instrument panel cost $1,000-$3,000.

“With the launch of Blue&Me TomTom for the Fiat 500, we are creating an exciting infotainment product that connects to the vehicle’s infrastructure and bridges the gap between automotive electronics and retail electronics to bring navigation technology to the vehicle system with quicker time-to-market,” says Giles Shrimpton, managing director-TomTom Automotive.

The TomTom Blue&Me system fits into a special dock atop the 500's dashboard. It provides navigation capability and integrates with the car's trip computer to give low-fuel warnings.

Additionally, the PND advises the driver when to shift gears for optimum fuel economy. The device syncs with certain smartphones, allowing hands-free calls. It also evaluates route options for fastest trip for a particular time of day.

The Blue&Me technology enables the driver to control the car's audio system, making it easy to select the desired music by artist or genre.

The PND has a 4.3-in. (11 cm) liquid crystal display, enabling the driver to use the touchscreen to control system functions, which also can be employed with steering-wheel buttons.

Other information displayed on the LCD includes time, mileage and gas units, available with several language options.

When the PND is used in a car other than the Fiat 500, it is not integrated into the vehicle's computers and does not provide the same integrated capabilities, officials say.

TomTom CEO Harold Goddijn says his firm, based in Amsterdam, is the largest seller of PNDs in Europe, but second to Garmin in the U.S.

TomTom's annual report shows company revenues totaled E1.5 billion ($2.1 billion) in 2010, with the consumer-business unit (aftermarket) sales accounting for 76%. Garmin reported 2010 total revenues of $2.69 billion.

TomTom sells content and digitized maps to nearly every major auto maker, Goddijn says, including Ford, Mazda, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz. The maps are created with the aid of satellite photos, but the detailed work of indicating 1-way streets and stop signs is done through field work.

At a media event here, he tells Ward's his company is increasing its business with auto makers – supplying both software and hardware. However, he declines to specify which car companies TomTom is negotiating with for future models.

Some 7.4% of domestic cars and 21.8% of light trucks were equipped with in-vehicle navigation systems in the U.S. in 2010, Ward’s data shows.