Ford and Sony Electronics have signed an agreement to offer Sony audio systems in Ford and Mercury vehicles in North America starting next year. The move follows a successful deal between the automaker’s European unit and the Japanese consumer electronics specialist.

The first North American vehicle to be equipped with a Sony system will be unveiled on 4 April at the New York motor show.

“We have enjoyed a very successful partnership at Ford of Europe with Sony-branded audio,” said Derrick Kuzak, Ford group vice president of global product development.

“Customers tell us that good audio systems are high on their list of priorities. Sony-branded audio and a host of other signature technologies will help differentiate Ford products in the marketplace.”

This is the third collaboration between Sony and Ford in North America. A limited edition Focus sedan was avilable in 2000, outfitted with Sony’s Xplod audio equipment. More recently, Ford offered “sound designed by Sony” in the Focus in North America.

In Europe, Sony-branded audio systems are offered in the Mondeo, Focus, C-Max, S-Max and Galaxy models.

Ford signed a long-term agreement with Sony in part because of the strong connection American consumers have with the brand, Kuzak said.

Sony continues to rank as the top consumer brand in the United States when consumers were asked to name the brands they consider the best, according to the annual Harris Interactive consumer brand survey.

Ford said offering branded audio is another example of its effort to deploy new consumer-driven electronic features in its vehicles.

Last January, Ford and Microsoft announced Ford Sync, a voice-activated in-car communications and entertainment system for mobile phones and digital music players that will be available later this year, and on the vehicles equipped with Sony systems.

Since 2002, the Lincoln brand has offered THX Certified audio systems. These, Ford said, produce sound quality comparable to a THX Certified home theatre. More recently, Sirius satellite radio became available in most Ford-made vehicles and DVD-based satellite navigation became available in most during 2005.