Ford on Wednesday claimed to have become the first US automaker to offer HD (high definition) digital radio across multiple vehicle product lines.

The dealer-installed high-definition radio option (a different, free-to-air, service from the popular subscription-based satellite radio option widely available in the US; and similar to the UK's DAB service) is now available nationwide on nearly all 2008 model year Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles.

Additionally, HD digital radio can be installed on many earlier models from 2005, 2006 and 2007.

"As with SYNC [a multimedia audio system launched earler], the extensive availability of HD digital radio furthers the company's ongoing efforts to deliver new entertainment technologies to automotive consumers," Ford said in a statement.

"We believe HD digital radio will be an important part of Ford's commitment to delivering innovations with mass appeal," said Kim Irwin, vehicle personalisation and accessories manager for Ford's customer service division.

"The dramatically improved audio, text and data features… - along with its hundreds of new radio stations - create a compelling combination at the right price."

According to Ford, digital radio "dramatically" increases the sound quality of radio broadcasts and enables more than one radio broadcast on a single channel. As a result, consumers hear a wide range of new HD2 multicast stations as well as their favourite radio stations in clear digital sound with no monthly subscription fee.

More than 1,500 radio stations in the US currently broadcast in digital, with more than 600 stations also airing HD2 multicasts.

Beginning immediately, digital radio will be available as a dealer-installed option on most Ford group vehicles - new or used. Prices will vary by dealership but, as with Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) here in the UK, the HD radio broadcasts carry no monthly subscription fee.

"Drivers have always had a love affair with their car radios," added Irwin. "HD radio offers our dealers a triple threat: It differentiates their offerings from other brands; it lets them upgrade customer entertainment systems in a unique way; and it lets buyers of recent [used] vehicles as well as current vehicle owners share completely in the benefits. This is the kind of programme that our dealers love to see."

To support the launch, Ford, Lincoln and Mercury dealers will benefit from an aggressive, multi-million-dollar, 13-week, on-air radio marketing campaign in partnership with the HD Digital Radio Alliance.

The commercials will air in 100 markets over some 700 radio stations beginning today (26 September).

"In all of our discussions with auto makers, Ford has consistently demonstrated both the will and the resolve to be industry leaders in this arena," said Peter Ferrara, president and CEO of the alliance.

"Now that HD Radio is broadcasting across hundreds of local stations nationwide, partners who move early will gain the biggest advantage."

The HD Digital Radio Alliance is a joint initiative of leading radio broadcasters to accelerate the successful rollout of the technology. Current members include major radio groups and independent station owners.

More on the US' HD radio service