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CES: Why car gadgets are making inroads at Las Vegas electronics show

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Ford’s voice-controlled Sync entertainment system started the ball rolling for hands-free technology. The automaker launched Sync in 2007, when no other domestic automaker seemed to consider dashboard electronics to be of much importance beyond car stereos systems and thermostat controls.

Sync allows drivers to access all their portable devices via a touchscreen; a smart-phone app – launched this week at the tradeshow – gives drivers verbal alerts on daily deals when they drive past retail or restaurant locations they pre-assign with importance.

Another sign car companies are getting serious about in-car technology is their budding network of alliances in Silicon Valley.

This month Ford announced it is opening a research lab in Silicon Valley, near Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. The company says it will employ about 15 people tasked with keeping abreast of trends and bringing it back to the company’s headquarters in Dearborn, Mich.

Silicon Valley is also home to research labs operated by General Motors, BMW AG, and the Renault-Nissan alliance. Many automakers are partnering with tech kingpins like Google and Microsoft to develop proprietary systems in their vehicles.

“Who would have thought of Ford as a technology company? That is part of the reason they’re here. They want to be seen as a technology company, especially in a market where cars have gotten so good and there’s not many differentiating factors,” says Mr. Newcomb.

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