Forget texting at the wheel: automakers want you to be able to check Facebook, listen to Internet radio and book a table online, while live traffic information displays the least congested route to your destination. Envious of the booming market for mobile phone applications, manufacturers such as Ford and Mercedes used the Geneva Motor Show to unveil their latest efforts to attract younger customers for whom smartphones are more appealing than Smart cars.

Ford is rolling out its SYNC system to European drivers this year, starting with the new B-Max family car. SYNC -- already available in North America -- lets drivers control their phone with voice commands, have a computer read out text and Twitter messages, or stream music through the car speakers. When the air bag is deployed, indicating a crash, the system will automatically call an emergency number and report the location of the car based on GPS coordinates. It will then attempt to connect the operator to the driver.

Experts such as former Ford chief technology officer Richard Parry-Jones say such systems could make driving a lot more pleasurable and help ease road congestion. But they also pose risks. "Quite a lot of work still needs to be done to ensure safety and compatibility," Parry-Jones added. Privacy, too, could become an issue, just as it has with phone apps that track users' locations, he said. "We should worry about it, but it's not an insoluble issue." -- AP


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