If one satellite navigation system is good, can two be better? That's the question suppliers and automakers are asking as preparations are being completed for the launch of the first of 30 satellites that will provide nearly the same navigation information as the US Global Positioning Satellite system, Automotive News Europe said.

The competing system, called Galileo, initially is being financed by the European Union and the European Space Agency. But a large portion of the cost to assemble and launch the satellites will be financed by a private consortium that has yet to be determined. The first satellite is expected to launch at the end of December.

The goal is to have a fully operational system by the end of 2010.

For today's drivers with in-car navigation receivers, the GPS system determines their location and can provide directions to a favourite restaurant or resort. Galileo supporters want the manufacturers of navigation systems to install both GPS and Galileo technology into future receivers so users can benefit from both systems. But the added cost to the manufacturer of a navigation system, automaker or car owner, for example, has yet to be determined. And the added benefit for drivers is debatable.

Electronics supplier Denso is optimistic about Galileo. Denso will start developing a car navigation system next year that incorporates GPS and Galileo technology.

However, "we believe that costs will rise at first," said Denso spokesman Goro Kanemasu.

Automakers and other suppliers are not preparing for Galileo. The reason? GPS has been in place for several years and meets the needs of today's drivers.

"From our standpoint, we don't see it as necessary," said Michaela Myller, a BMW spokeswoman for research and innovations. "We don't see any real benefit in Galileo for our customers."

A second reason for their hesitation is simply whether the 30-satellite system will be fully operational by the end of the decade, as targeted. All of the funding has not been secured.

The reluctance by automakers to support the Galileo programme is not an encouraging sign for Galileo's partners, the European Union and European Space Agency. The two groups are investing EUR1.5 billion to develop and launch four satellites over the next two years in what is labelled an in-orbit validation phase.

The two partners are attempting to put together a private consortium to pay for about two-thirds of the cost of the second phase, which is estimated at about EUR2 billion.

The second phase will cover the cost of the assembly and launch of the remaining 26 satellites. This phase is expected to begin in 2008 and end in late 2010.

The consortium will raise revenue by selling Galileo's satellite transmission data to companies that make navigation receivers and cell phones that incorporate navigation aids.

General Motors Europe is taking a cautious approach. "There are no plans [to use the system] at the moment, but we will take a deep look, a deep dive into Galileo," said Uwe Deller, a GM Europe technology spokesman.

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