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Fri, Sep 16, 2005 - Page 12 News List

Carmakers dance to the ubiquitous MP3's tune


Leave the CDs in the trunk -- the one you use to store old books, papers and records -- and not the back of your car.

With MP3 players becoming more ubiquitous and consumers turning to digital downloads for their latest hits, automakers at the Frankfurt Auto Show plan to radically change the way you listen to tunes while on the road.

While the in-dash CD player isn't a thing of the past like the eight-track or even the cassette player, memory sticks, USB players and other small tools for storing lots of music are set to become the wave of the future.

Volkswagen AG, Europe's biggest automaker, is set to make USB an option on its Golf, Golf Plus and Touran models in December and plans to roll out the option to the rest of its models next year.

"You can simply plug USB sticks into the built-in console in the center armrest to play audio files," the company said. "The radio will recognize the memory when you select the CD drive as the source. Larger USB players can be connected with a cable."

The connector is inside the center armrest, leaving it out of the way of both the driver and passenger. The option comes in two varieties, one for the iPod and another for other USB-based MP3 players.

In other words, that means if you have an iPod and lots of road to ride, you can do so with thousands of songs, depending on the size of your personal player.

According to the specs, up to six music folders can be displayed as CDs -- one to six on the factory-installed radio screen. Any information associated with the file, be it artist, album or time, can be displayed and you can use the radio buttons to scan, search or shuffle your mix.

Christian Bulhman, a spokesman for Wolfsburg-based Volkswagen AG, said the automaker will charge US$240.12 for the system instead of a traditional CD changer. The buyer has to supply the MP3 player.

Speaking of those iPods, several attendees at the bi-annual International Auto Show were sporting theirs as they strolled the cavernous confines of the Frankfurt Messe and some used that opportunity to plug them into an array of in-dash multimedia entertainment centers that would have rivaled a home set-up, were they not so small.

Alpine showed off its KCA-420i, which provides iPod controls amid the various tuning knobs, volume controls and more.

It works by offering a plug for the Apple device and is compatible with all makes.

Other auto makers showed they were ready to embrace USB in different ways.

Mazda Motor Corp unveiled its Sassou concept car, a sleek yet anime-styled two-door aimed at young urbanites with a penchant for adopting the latest technology.

It has replaced a key altogether, going instead with a USB stick to lock or unlock the car and start up the motor, as well as informing the onboard hard disk about your latest and greatest favorite tunes.

For drivers who worry their expensive car is alone in the dark and at risk of being broken into, Japan's Denso Corp has developed a security system that not only honks the horn incessantly, but snaps a shot of the interior of the vehicle and e-mails it to its owner's mobile phone and computer.

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