Apple, Carmakers Ink iPod Pacts

NEW YORK Traditional radio is about to face more competition for in-car listeners.

On Thursday, Apple Computer disclosed deals with Ford Motor Co., General Motors and Mazda to equip 2007 models with plug-and-play compatibility for iPods. GM will make the feature available on all 56 of its models.

As a result of the pacts, more than 70 percent of 2007 U.S. auto models will offer iPod integration. (Carmakers will integrate iPod functions into the controls on steering wheels and radios.)

The deals are significant because they put iPods in reach of a whole new demographic, said Wes Brown, partner at consumer research firm Iceology in Los Angeles.

“The typical iPod consumer is not the typical Ford or GM consumer,” Brown said. “It’s not the buyer base they usually attract.”

Mazda, which makes sporty vehicles that appeal to the young and active, is more in line with iPod’s usual target market, Brown said.

For ailing auto giants Ford and GM, however, the partnership with Apple (considered a powerhouse in the tech industry in part because of its hip and trendy image) may bring them some cachet.

“Apple is just plain and simple so hot right now,” said Brown. “The consumer sentiment in so positive. They could be hoping for at the very least a trickle of Apple-ness to reach Ford and GM.”

Apple had already inked similar deals with other car manufacturers, including Acura, Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Honda, Nissan and Volkswagen.

Since the iPod was introduced five years ago, it has become the most ubiquitous portable digital music player, with more than 58 million units sold.

The iPod is one of many new competitors challenging traditional radio. Satellite radio, with more than 11 million subscribers, is firmly established in the dashboards of some automobiles. HD Radio, traditional radio’s answer to digital audio, has so far only inked one deal covering BMW’s 2007 Model Year 5 series. iBiquity Digital, which licenses HD Radio, this week said it has expanded its executive team in an effort to solicit more automotive partners.

About one-third of all radio listening takes place in cars, according to Arbitron.