Kia and Microsoft are partnering; “UVO”will be the first direct competition to Ford’s “Sync”

Kia Motors America and Microsoft Corp. are partnering to provide a new system that will allow drivers and passengers to make phone calls and control a car’s audio system through voice commands.

Called UVO, the hands-free system will be offered in several Kia vehicles by the end of the year, according to the auto maker, the first being the 2011 Kia Sorento crossover, likely to be out around July.

UVO will also be the first direct competition to Ford Motor Co.’s Sync system, which is also based on Microsoft technology. Kia and Microsoft will announce the partnership Tuesday at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Ford is expected to unveil new Sync features that combine navigation and online social media at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The next generation of Ford’s Sync, expected out later this year, will also offer wireless Internet access, the company has said.

Hands-free technologies allow drivers and passengers to answer and place phone calls, send and receive text messages and access music and other media, primarily by using voice-recognition programs.

UVO will provide all such functions, but will not offer turn-by-turn directions as Ford’s Sync technology does.

Both UVO and Sync can be linked to iPhones, MP3 players and other portable mobile music and cellphone devices.

“For us, it’s a breakthrough interface,” said Michael Sprague, vice president of U.S. marketing for Kia. Mr. Sprague declined to say what the product would cost, but said it would be consistent with Kia’s value message.

“We’ve always made sure that we continue to offer the consumer the best value,” said Mr. Sprague. “So we’ll make sure we do the same with UVO.”

Sync, which is offered in Ford vehicles such as the Ford Fusion and F-150, starts at about $400 and goes up from there.

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