Monday, August 07, 2006

Ford, GM, Mazda, Will Connect Your iPod to Their Cars

NEW YORK -- Apple is teaming up with Ford, General Motors and Mazda in a deal that could further the spread of the ubiquitous iPod.

The companies announced Thursday that they would start providing technology that would allow iPod owners to play the portable music devices in nearly all of their cars.

Ford and GM will include the iPod system in the majority of their 2007 models beginning later this year. Mazda plans on integrating the connectivity technology into its entire global lineup for 2007, according to a statement from Apple, Cupertino, Calif.

Being able to play an iPod in a car is not new. Mini, BMW and Dodge have already made similar moves, and iPod aficionados have for some time now been able to buy extra gadgets that connect the players to a car’s radio, said Wes Brown, partner at consumer research firm Iceology, Los Angeles.

But the deal puts the little white gizmos in reach of a whole new demographic.

“The typical iPod consumer is not the typical Ford or GM consumer,” Brown said. “It’s not the buyer base they usually attract.”

For Mazda, which makes sporty vehicles that appeal to the young and active, the deal was a “no-brainer,” Brown said.

For ailing auto giants Ford and GM, the partnership with Apple—widely considered to be a powerhouse in the tech industry in part because of its hip and trendy image—may bring them some cachet.

“Apple is just plain and simple so hot right now,” said Brown.
“The consumer sentiment in so positive. They could be hoping for at the very least a trickle of Apple-ness to reach Ford and GM.”

Apple sold over 8 million iPods in the third quarter of 2006, a 32% growth from the same period last year, and earned a 75% market share, the company announced in July.

Thursday’s announcement was in part significant because it marks the entry of the iPod into the mass-volume car market. GM will put the system into all of its 56 models, which means “millions of cars and trucks,” said Greg Joswiak, vp-worldwide iPod product marketing, in a statement.

The announcement also gives the automakers a veneer of savvy that they often lack, Brown said. With the iPod’s supremacy in the music category, in a few years, systems like the ones announced today are going to be standard, he said.

“If you’re a car company that doesn’t offer this, you are literally going to be losing buyers,” Brown said. “This puts them at the forefront, not a word you’d normally associate with Ford or GM.”

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