Visteon is racing to help car makers fit their models with USB ports. If it can act fast enough it expects to win big. "It's a major but short-term opportunity," said Hans Eric Destree, Visteon commercial director of mobile electronics. "We'll only get an 18- to 20-month window on this before other providers enter the market," he told Automotive News Europe in an interview.

By linking a USB port to a car's entertainment system the car maker can offer customers audio and video options unavailable in most other models. That means a customer can play music loaded onto a memory stick in the car. The stereo system recognises the USB port as if it was the car's CD changer so the car's regular stereo controls can be used to scroll through the songs on the memory stick. Visteon says the benefits of the technology are cost and convenience.

"A CD changer is two or three times the cost of the USB interface," said Visteon mobile electronics project leader Ian Randall. "Those CDs would have only 70 to 80 tracks. With a 1-gigabyte stick you can get 400 or 500 songs."

With all that entertainment on a pocket-sized stick, a car owner no longer has to risk leaving stacks of CDs in the car, where they can get damaged by the elements or stolen. Visteon's connector has a USB port for the memory stick as well as an input for an Apple iPod MP3 player.

The in-car USB will be introduced on a production car in early February, Destree said. He declined to name the automaker but said, at the IAA in Frankfurt last month, a German carmaker displayed a USB port in one of its models. At the IAA, Volkswagen said its Golf, Golf Plus, Jetta and Touran would offer a USB interface soon. It did not name the supplier. Also at the IAA, Smart's Crosstown concept vehicle featured a USB port.