Ford's Sync in-car connectivity system developed with Microsoft will be enhanced with a new '911 assist' feature that will help drivers connect with emergency assistance in the event of an air bag deployment.

When a phone is properly paired, turned on and connected to Sync, the system will be ready to assist in placing a call to a local 911 emergency operator should an air bag-deploying accident occur.

Before initiating the emergency 911 call, Sync will provide a 10-second window to allow the driver or passenger to decide whether to cancel the call. If not manually cancelled within the 10-second window, Sync will place the emergency call.  A pre-recorded message will play when the call is answered, and occupants in the vehicle will then be able to communicate directly with the 911 operator.

Ford claims a key advantage over rivals such as GM's Onstar of Sync 911 Assist is speed, as calls are placed directly to local 911 operators. A Sync-assisted call should reach 911 operators faster than competitive systems, as there are no handoffs and no need to speak to a call-centre operator. There is also no additional monthly fee for this feature, as Sync uses a customer's existing mobile phone.

Sync already allows owners to connect digital media players and Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones to the vehicle and operate them via voice commands or with the buttons on the steering wheel or radio.

It is also being updated this year to create, on demand, easy-to-understand reports that owners can use to monitor the health of their vehicles.

Using the Sync website, customers will be able to set up personal preferences for vehicle health report (VHR). Once established, a report can be requested at any time, at no cost, using simple voice commands.

In creating a health report, Sync will gather relevant information from the major vehicle control modules and send that information to Ford via an 800-number using the customer's paired and operable mobile phone. The whole process, which in some vehicles will include a routine check of more than two dozen systems, takes a matter of minutes.

Once sent, the information is automatically analysed by Ford and a complete report is created.  Notification is then sent via text message or e- mail, based on customer preference.  Reports will be accessible through the website and will use simple, customer-friendly language, suggest next steps and, when appropriate, allow customers to schedule service online. Reports can also be printed or emailed as necessary.

Owners that need reminding about vehicle maintenance will be able to have Sync prompt them to run a report at mileage intervals consistent with Ford's maintenance schedule.

Owners of 2008 models already on the road will be able to have their software-based systems updated with the new functions, as well.

"From the start, we pursued an updatable software solution, using the consumer electronics business as our model," said Derrick Kuzak, Ford's group vice president of global product development.

"The ability to add functionality and update the system to work with new devices is what makes Sync unique in the industry right now."