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Fiat

Fiat will bring telematics to the budget-minded via a set of basic telematics modules built by Magneti Marelli that use Microsoft's Windows Automotive operating system.

Frugal information and telematics

Earlier this year, Microsoft showed a basic telematics module called T-Box that it put together with off-the-shelf parts costing about $100.

Earlier this year, Microsoft showed a basic telematics module called T-Box that it put together with off-the-shelf parts costing about $100. The point of the exercise was to show that with a robust and flexible operating system as a backbone, telematics could be affordable to just about anyone. Italian automaker Fiat seized on the idea and has reached a deal with Microsoft that will make Windows Automotive the OS for all of its brands. That means that in a couple of years even the lowest priced Fiat will come with the option of a voice-activated, wireless, hands-free phone connection via Bluetooth and a USB port for downloading music. And pricier models, including Lancias and Alfa Romeos, will add a GPS module and be able to scale up to full telematic functions like off-board (not part of a hard-wired in-car unit) navigation via Fiat's bConnect service. Peter Wengert, marketing manager at Microsoft's Automotive Business Unit, says, "By standardizing on one operating system OEMs can add high-end telematics functions easily while limiting overall complexity." And given the economies of scale that Fiat can command, this is the deal that finally could bring telematics into the mainstream, at least in Europe.