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On the Road to Car 2.0: Ford Opens Up API, for Some

It’s not a complete realization of the Car 2.0 concept — the intertwining of vehicles, communication networks and the power grid for a smarter, greener transportation system — but it’s a start: Ford Motor (s F) announced Wednesday night at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas that it has opened up its Sync platform to let three “trusted partners” hook up their smartphone apps to vehicle controls. In addition to the students at the University of Michigan that Ford announced it was working with last month to develop demo apps, Ford has now partnered with Pandora, OpenBeak and Stitcher.

Doug VanDagens, director of connective services for Ford, told us in an interview this week that the automaker plans to roll out 3-4 Sync-enabled apps (downloaded to cell phones from existing distribution channels, like iTunes, but equipped for control via voice commands in the vehicle and steering wheel buttons) per quarter in 2010.

If cars function more like smartphones, with a web connection and an open platform on which developers can build applications, it opens the possibility for a wide and deep pool of services helping drivers better manage their use of fuel, and down the road, their battery charge.

Ford’s move to gradually open up its communications platform to third-party developers offers a glimpse of how Car 2.0 will unfold (we have an article on GigaOM Pro detailing what developers can expect from the system). Ford wants to get in on the excitement over smartphones and apps, but ahead of tools for reducing emissions and fuel consumption, it’s going for the low hanging fruit. Horoscopes, stock listings and movie listings are next in line after the three services announced Wednesday, VanDagens told us.

Yet even seemingly frivolous connections between vehicles and communication networks can mean some progress toward cleaner cars. For electric vehicles, connectivity to the web and data are “required over and above what gas engines require,” VanDagens told us last month. Apps can use data — about topography, traffic, battery and vehicle health, infrastructure availability, driving behavior — to help orient drivers in the nascent world of electric mobility, both in and out of their vehicle.

Graphics courtesy of Ford

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