LAS VEGAS, NEV.—Ailing automakers are using every edge they can when it comes to selling their product, particularly as consumers hunker down for a lean 2009. Ford Motor Co. chief executive Alan Mulally said Thursday at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) here that one important part of his company’s strategy is to offer its Sync technology—an in-car communications and entertainment system that Ford and Microsoft announced at CES in 2007—on more cars. Sync—currently available on 12 different Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models, including the Ford Focus, Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKS—will be available across the company’s lineup by 2011.

Money has been tight for automakers, to say the least. Toyota Motor announced earlier this week that it will halt production at its 12 U.S. plants for six days in February and five days in March in an effort to cut costs. General Motors Corp. and Chrysler, LLC, late last year made now-infamous trips to Washington, D.C., to ask the federal government for billions of dollars in bailout funds.

Sync includes a flash memory-based system and lets motorists operate a number of popular digital devices, including MP3 players and mobile phones, using voice commands or buttons on the steering wheel or radio/navigation console. Ford expects to have one million Sync-equipped vehicles on the road by the third quarter of 2009, Mulally said. The company lists all of the Sync-equipped vehicles on its site.

The next version of Sync, due out this spring, will allow users to get traffic info, directions and other data using voice-recognition software, integrated GPS technology and a driver’s Bluetooth-capable mobile phone. The hope is that higher sales will keep Ford from needing the buyout billions, as Mulally has said his company does not plan to use federal aid.

Sync is a good deal for Ford, according to an analysis by tech research firm iSuppli, which estimates that Sync’s hardware components (excluding Microsoft’s software) cost Ford about $30 to add to each car, reported last year. Ford, however, offers Sync as a $395 option, quite a markup.

“We are a car company,” Mulally said Thursday, “but we’re learning to think like an electronics company.”

Image courtesy of Ford