June 26, 2008

Chrysler to Turn Cars into Hot Spots

By Chris Woodyard

It may not be as exciting as finding the perfect parking spot, but Chrysler is going to let drivers turn most of the company's 2009 vehicles into hot spots -- at least for mobile Web access.

The automaker will unveil a system today that will let motorists check e-mail on their laptop at stoplights, while the kids play online video games in the back seat.

"What UConnect Web does is turn the whole vehicle into an Internet hot spot," says Keefe Leung, who works on advanced connectivity strategies for Chrysler. "We see great potential for this."

Chrysler says it will be first to bring Wi-Fi into the car on a mass scale. The dealer-installed system, called UConnect Web, will be an add-on to Chrysler's UConnect information and entertainment systems.

The wireless router and cellular-based Web connection will serve Wi-Fi-enabled laptops, iPhone and other smartphones, entertainment systems and other personal devices.

Chrysler believes the system's greatest benefit likely will be as back-seat video and game entertainment for kids. But adults will benefit as well, executives say.

"They can make dinner reservations, check directions or weather, make online purchases (or) surf Facebook," says Rob Richard, director of Chrysler's Mopar part sales and service marketing arm.

The system is not rigged to keep the driver from doing such things while the car is moving, though Chrysler will discourage it.

UConnect Web will be offered in most 2009 Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles starting in August. The in-vehicle router will cost $449, plus installation of up to $50. Mobile Web access for it will require a $29-a-month subscription, after $35 for activation, through provider Autonet Mobile.

The service could catapult Chrysler back into the race against General Motors and Ford Motor for advanced personal technology in cars.

Ford appears to have a hit in its Microsoft-developed Sync system for controlling personal electronic devices. Ford plans to introduce a built-in Internet system aimed at the contractor market in the new 2009 F-150 pickup when the truck goes on sale in late fall.

"It's really about helping our truck owners get the job done on the worksite," Ford spokesman Alan Hall says.

General Motors has continually added features to its OnStar satellite communications system.

UConnect will be the umbrella name for all Chrysler in-car technology -- entertainment system with a hard drive, Bluetooth, satellite TV, navigation and Web.

A few aftermarket suppliers have offered Internet in cars, but the feature has only slowly caught on. Boosters say it can be quite handy.

"People use Internet in the car for all sorts of things -- gas prices, weather, movie times," says Robert Wray, president of Mp3Car, a Web forum and sales site for car technologies.

"The sky is the limit." (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>