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Orange, Smart launch Bluetooth car

Wireless should be the standard for safe driving

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Mobile network Orange and motor maker Daimler Chrysler today pledged to help establish Bluetooth as the "standard for safer driving" with the launch of a car that integrates the wireless technology.

DC's Smart subsidiary, maker of stubby but stylish two-seater city cars, unveiled a special edition of its City Coupé decked out almost entirely in black flecked with Orange's own colour scheme.

The vehicle comes bundled with a six-month Orange contract or pay-as-you-go package and a Sony Ericsson T610 handset. Once the driver has turned on the car's Bluetooth sub-system and paired it with the phone, he or she can make and receive calls by voice activation. The car has a built-in microphone and relays the conversation through the in-car hi-fi system.

The move follows the UK government's move to ban the use of mobile phones in moving vehicles. That restriction comes into force on 1 December. Violators face on the spot fines of between £30 and £1000 ($49-1663). Surveys have shown that 27 per cent of UK motorists admit they have used their mobile phones while driving.

Of course, this commitment to safe, legal driving is undermined a tad by Smart's decision to offer the Bluetooth rig in a run of just 100 City Coupés - hardly a number to inspire the technology's broad adoption for in-car communications. Neither does positioning it as one step away from a top-of-the-range optional extra, rather than a standard safety feature.

Smart UK chief Jeremy Simpson told The Register it will be monitoring demand for the special edition model, and may begin a second production run next March. However, he also held out the prospect that Smart's upcoming four-seater, the FourFour, due to arrive in 2005, could incorporate the technology as a basic component.

"Never say never," he said.

Orange automotive sector support manager Cornish also pointed out that with relatively few Bluetooth phones in the market - and how many of their owners actually use the facility? - now is not the time to promote the technology as a mass-market option. Of drivers asked about their chief requirement of in-car technology, only six per cent said they wanted "safe and secure communications" - the vast majority, 66 per cent, want navigation and traffic information systems.

Yet with the legal limit of mobile phone usage just months away, surely now is indeed the time to start promoting Bluetooth handsfree sets and products like the City Coupé?

For Orange, the joint venture is part of a programme focusing on promoting mobile network technology in the automotive market, both for in-car communications and entertainment, and as the basis for connected vehicle systems, such as remote diagnostics and monitoring.

The special edition vehicle goes on sale this coming weekend throughout Smart's network of 60 UK dealerships. The car costs £8995 on the road, which Smart claims is &pound400 less than the costs of the standard model plus all the extras build into the special edition, including the T610 and subscription, air con, improved audio system, etc. ®

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