CHICAGO -- The traditional AM/FM car radio may be going the way of the Victrola and the eight-track player.
The very company that pioneered radio in cars is among those leading a push to tune out the old traditional radio and replace it with a paired radio and Internet billed as a more useful, entertaining and plugged-in product.
Motorola Inc.'s iRadio prototype and a truckload of competitors, most still a year or more away from the market, are bringing the Web to your car.
''We're reinventing a product we invented in 1929,'' says Brian Santoro, a vice president at Motorola, whose name comes from ''motor car'' plus ''Victrola.'' ''It's our heritage, it's our DNA.''
While Motorola is among the leaders in this emerging blockbuster category, it won't be the first.
Clarion Corp. of America last year came out with a souped-up car radio called Clarion AutoPC. Along with the usual radio and CD player, the voice-activated system offers personalized Internet data such as news headlines, sports scores and stock quotes along with e-mail. It also provides directions with a built-in global positioning system.
Others are scrambling to come out with similar products.
Among automakers, General Motors and its OnStar service will provide some Internet access in new versions of 32 of its 54 models this fall. A version of its Cadillac DeVille will have a screen capable of downloading e-mail and doing limited Web browsing, but only while the car is in park.
Ford Motor Co. says it will have some sort of e-mail and Internet connection soon in its luxury models.
The carmakers are betting that millions of drivers will be willing to pay as much as $30 a month for Internet-access gadgets, which are expected to become standard equipment in new cars within five years.
Motorola, a longtime electronics supplier to automakers and the world's No. 2 cellular phone manufacturer, is vying for domination of the burgeoning industry of telematics -- wireless telecommunications in cars and trucks. Demand for Web-connected cars is projected to help triple the company's telematics sales to about $1 billion in the next three years.
''Telematics will be the next air bag in the auto industry,'' Santoro said. ''It's an enormous opportunity.''
Its iRadio, unveiled in January, remains a tantalizing prototype that combines existing capabilities with a few new ones.
After indicating preferences on a Web site from home, drivers using iRadio will be able to speak a single word and get instant results in the car, according to the plan.
Say ''stocks'' and a robotic voice gives the latest Microsoft or Wal-Mart share price. Say ''traffic'' and the voice gives an update of conditions on a preprogrammed route. Drive into a new city and the computer can automatically reprogram the radio to local rock or classical music stations.
The quickest route, the closest gas station, the nearest Mexican restaurant, the next Marriott down the highway, sports scores of your favorite teams -- all will be theoretically just a word away.
Motorola, while still working out the kinks, says drivers also will be able to leave voicemail, hear incoming e-mail, send e-mail, page customers or download audio books with the car computer system.
The company is reluctant to talk about pricing, but industry estimates put the cost of the first iRadio models between $1,000 and $3,000.
Motorola has formed alliances with carmakers, IBM, technology start-ups and others to speed the product to market.
Charles DiSanza, an analyst who follows Motorola, said iRadio is well-conceived and looks ''pretty neat,'' although it remains embryonic.
''It looks like they're doing the right things,'' but it's still too early to assess how it will fare in the marketplace, said DiSanza of Gerard Klauer Mattison & Co.
Another important, unanswered question: Will it distract the driver?
Jim Louderback, who follows technology for cable television network ZDTV, said that while some of the features ''sound great ... others just sound dangerous.''
Government and safety organizations, while enthusiastic about the potential of new gadgets like mapping and locator systems in cars, are more wary of the fun stuff after realizing the distractions caused by hand-held cell phones.
''There are a lot of very interesting concepts and ideas being floated around about potential in-car services,'' said Geoff Sundstrom, a spokesman for the American Automobile Association. ''But our industry and the wireless industry need to make darn certain that we're not creating a safety issue on the road.''
Motorola says the use of voice commands rather than hand-pressed buttons should enhance safety.
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