DETROIT - Saab could be among the first wave of automakers to offer a dashboard Internet link.
Delphi Automotive Systems has equipped a Saab 9-5 with a prototype Internet link designed by Delphi subsidiary Delco Electronics Systems and Microsoft Corp.
'We could put it into a vehicle fairly quickly,' said David Wohleen, Delco's general engineering director. 'There is intense interest (from automakers) in this.'
The voice-activated system is designed to handle e-mail, Internet news and stock reports, the car's audio system, turn-by-turn navigation system and a 'flight recorder' that stores data about the vehicle's performance.
In addition to voice commands, the driver can control all functions with buttons mounted on the steering wheel.
Motorists can plug their palm-top computers into the dashboard to download personal files into the vehicle's computer.
The prototype system uses Microsoft's Auto PC software, which employs the Windows CE operating system.
Daimler-Benz, Volkswagen and PSA/Peugeot-Citroen all have shown interest in Microsoft Auto PC.
The Mercedes-Benz S-class could get such a system in 1999.
A Delco concept car unveiled last year contained an Internet link designed by Microsoft's rivals IBM, Motorola, Sun Microsystems and Netscape. That vehicle is a technology showcase, said Delco General Manager Michael Burns.
'It's a rolling laboratory,' Burns said. 'We've got a lot of technology in that vehicle which will come to the market in pieces.'
By contrast, the Windows-compatible system unveiled at the SAE International Congress and Exposition last month relies on off-the-shelf hardware.
Moreover, Microsoft has aggressively promoted Auto PC as a production-ready system.
In January, Microsoft unveiled a prototype Internet link developed with Visteon Automotive Systems.
Clarion, a supplier of audio systems, will introduce an aftermarket Internet link using Auto PC this year for $1,299 in the North American market.
Microsoft has also announced that an unnamed automaker will introduce an Internet system as original equipment in 1999.