DEARBORN, MI – Navigation systems should be a right, not a privilege, according to Ford Motor Co.

That’s what inspired the auto maker to develop “Traffic, Directions and Information,” which lends nav-system functionality to cell phones using Sync, Ford’s in-vehicle multimedia system.

The feature leverages the boost Ford enjoyed in the connectivity arena by virtue of an exclusivity arrangement with Sync co-developer, Microsoft Corp. That deal expired in November.

Says Mark Fields, president-The Americas: “We didn’t want to sit back and say, ‘We have 12-18 months exclusivity and then let’s be like everybody else.’”

So Ford sought to develop applications that made the most of Sync’s potential.

“Navigation systems only have a 5%-8% take rate, while nearly everyone has a cell phone,” notes Doug VanDagens, director of Ford’s Connected Services Organization.

Traffic, Directions and Information integrates voice-recognition software, global-positioning technology and a customer’s Bluetooth-capable phone to provide hands-free access to personalized traffic reports, turn-by-turn driving directions and up-to-date information including business listings, news, sports and weather.

“We are able to provide traffic speed, flow and incident information to drivers in 95 markets nationwide,” VanDagens tells Ward’s. “In addition, drivers can personalize the system to alert them of changing road conditions.”

Information about the location and severity of accidents, new road construction and heavy congestion is sent to a driver’s cell phone as text messages. These messages can then be broadcast into the vehicle, via Sync, as if spoken.

Turn-by-turn directions also will be displayed on the vehicle’s radio dial.

In addition, Time, Directions and Traffic can be personalized to deliver sports, news and weather reports.

Depending on the information requested, two different voice-recognition systems are utilized, VanDagens says. One is the software embedded in the Sync platform, while the other is a more advanced version offered by Microsoft subsidiary Tellme, which engages once the user’s cell phone accesses outside traffic, direction and information data.

The Tellme service allows for “short-cut” voice commands, such as “traffic to work” or “directions to home,” VanDagens says.

In order to deliver the real-time data, Ford worked with a variety of tech partners, including INRIX, TeleNav, M/A-COM and Airbiquity, VanDagens says.

“About 35% of a typical Ford vehicle is electronic content, and consequently we’re working with hundreds of electronic suppliers,” he adds.

Traffic, Directions and Information will be available this year on select ’10 models and will roll out across the entire Ford, Lincoln and Mercury lineup by 2011.

For vehicles with older versions of Sync, upgrades are available online or at dealerships.

The first three years of the service will be free of charge. Afterwards, Ford will charge a nominal fee that has yet to be determined, VanDagens says.

bpope@wardsauto.com