Microsoft Corp. has begun showing U.S. automakers an alternative to the in-car navigation and assistance now offered exclusively by General Motor Corp.'s OnStar communications service.
The voice-recognition software, displayed at an auto industry conference Tuesday, allows mobile telephone users to receive spoken data from Microsoft's Tellme database.
Microsoft's service, which would connect through a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone in the car, could challenge Detroit-based GM's digital subscriber-based wireless system, which costs as much as $324 a year and has nearly 5 million subscribers.
Microsoft said the system could be paired with the digital music and mobile phone software known as Sync to be offered by Ford Motor Co. on its 2008 Ford Focus.
"There's huge interest," said David Graff, Microsoft's automotive industry director, in an interview at the conference in Novi, Mich.
Microsoft obtained the technology when it acquired Tellme Networks Inc., a closely held phone software company, in May.
The Ford Sync system will allow drivers to make calls or access music by voice request. The system, which has a small monitor in the dash, also can receive and "read" text messages aloud.
Ford Sync will be a $395 option on the Focus. It eventually will be available on 12 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models, the company said two weeks ago.
GM's OnStar is a subscription service that costs $17 to $27 a month. It provides live operators to help drivers with safety issues, directions and other services. The system also can diagnose mechanical problems.