SYNC or Swim for Ford

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Recalling 490,000 minivans and SUVs is not going to look good on its resume, but Ford (NYS: F) had better news for investors earlier this week when it revealed that there are now 4 million cars on the road with the auto giant's SYNC system.

Ford has been on the cutting edge lately with its voice-controlled dashboard technology, giving Bluetooth-enabled smartphone owners access to audio entertainment, timely information, and functional features that just weren't available a couple of years ago. Some of the safety and navigational features provided by SYNC aren't as seamless as what General Motors (NYS: GM) has going on with OnStar, but at least it's free of monthly charges.

This has obviously been a big week for car tech. The timing of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and the North American International Auto Show in Detroit finds automakers trying to raise the bar.

Pandora (NYS: P) has certainly had its dance card punched, kicking off the week by revealing that Acura and Kia will be rolling out new model cars with streaming access to Pandora. There are now 16 automotive brands that either have radios that can access Pandora or will have them soon.

Ford hopped on Pandora early, allowing SYNC owners access to the leading streaming service through the free SYNC AppLink download.

However, now that everyone else has caught up to Ford, what will it do next?

Sure, Ford already raised the bar on SYNC with MyFord Touch. The state-of-the-art infotainment platform had a rocky debut, but that's nothing that a software update can't fix.

One way to make sure that it stays ahead of pack is to be the first car maker to begin installing Sirius XM Radio's (NAS: SIRI) Sirius XM 2.0. Sirius XM CEO Mel Karmazin revealed late last year that one auto manufacturer will begin rolling with the enhanced satellite receivers in 2012, and the rest should follow in 2013.

Another thing that Ford may want to do is take a page out of Apple's playbook and begin inviting SYNC owners down to the showroom for hands-on tutorials and software upgrades. I'm driving one of the four million Fords with SYNC, and I know that I'm not even close to scratching the surface of what it can do. If Apple can create customer loyalty by giving them free how-to clinics at its stores, why not Ford?

Get moving, Ford. Don't you see everybody else's headlights getting bigger in the rearview mirror?

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At the time this article was published Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story, except for Ford. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford Motor and Apple.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Apple, General Motors, and Ford Motor.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended creating a synthetic long position in Ford Motor. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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