Not Just for the Volt: Ford, GM Get Google Maps

Ford (s F) and General Motors (s GM) plan to let drivers send Google (s GOOG) Maps directions straight to vehicles equipped with Ford’s Sync and GM’s OnStar communication systems. The two automakers announced the new services this morning, at a time when Internet rivalries are beginning to spill over into the new landscape of connected and electric cars.

Such agreements are by no means exclusive. Both GM and Ford have previously announced a similar deal with AOL’s (s aol) MapQuest, and Google Maps offers an option to send destination info from the web to Mercedes, BMW and Audi vehicles as well as Garmin, TomTom and ClarionMiND GPS navigation devices.

GM’s version of the Google Maps service will require an OnStar subscription, and be available for vehicles going back to the 2006 model year. Ford’s will come at no additional cost (Sync, a cloud-based service, comes standard in some higher-end models, or with a $395 onetime charge in other models) and will be available initially only for 2010-2011 model year vehicles. The service is also BYOD — bring your own device — as Jalopnik puts it. (For insight on the value of the cloud and the reinvention of core Internet technologies to serve bandwidth-thirsty cloud computing customers, check out our Structure 2010 event June 23-24 in San Francisco.)

Ford, which announced plans to offer a similar service via AOL’s MapQuest earlier this year, says it will offer the “Send to Sync” service at no charge for all 2010 and 2011 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models equipped with an application called Sync Traffic, Directions & Information, or TDI. Drivers will also need a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone to download destination info to the vehicle, which will then process audio turn-by-turn directions.

The first step for users will be to visit Google Maps on the web, enter a location and then select “Send to Sync” from a menu. Once in the vehicle, giving the voice command “Services” will launch a set of prompts to begin downloading the Google Maps destination. If the car has a map-based navigation system, then the destination will feed into that system, which in turn will devise a route based on preferences set by the driver.

GM, meanwhile, says OnStar users (paying about $200 per year after the first year for a subscription to the service) will be able to send a Google Maps destination directly to a car’s built-in systems for downloading destinations and turn-by-turn navigation. GM announced a similar service with MapQuest last year, in which drivers press the car’s phone button, issue a voice command (“virtual advisor”), then follow voice prompts to retrieve a destination from MapQuest and download it to the vehicle.

As for that old Google rival, Microsoft (s MSFT), this sort of deal in the automotive space has not emerged for its Bing Maps, despite the fact that Microsoft is a major supplier of embedded software for the auto industry. Microsoft’s tech underlies Ford’s Sync, Fiat’s Blue&Me and Kia’s Uvo systems. The company has also partnered with Ford to manage electric vehicle charging with its Microsoft Hohm tool, and has seen former CFO Chris Liddell become GM’s vice chairman and CFO.

Google represents a relatively new player in this field, but the search giant is gaining momentum. Last month GM announced plans to work with Google Android phones for a next-gen mobile app for the Chevy Volt (offering things like location-based services in addition to scheduling battery charge times — see our video demo here). Automotive supplier Continental AG has said it’s working on a new hardware and software system based on Android (slated for demos later this year), and Chinese automaker SAIC has debuted a model that includes an Android infotainment system.

As Scott Griffith, the CEO and chairman of car-sharing provider Zipcar (s ZIP), told us in an interview last year, “Electric cars by nature have to be connected cars.” So these recent developments are part of the larger march toward integrating vehicles with mobile devices and the web, and will also shape the playing field when it comes to locating charge stations and controlling functions like battery charging in electric cars.

Images courtesy of Ford and GM

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