Fiat Group has stolen a march on its European rivals by launching a sophisticated but low cost telematics service that will be used in all Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Ferrari and Maserati models. It believes no rivals will be able to offer similar services for at least a year.
The new Connect telematics system combines GSM telephony, Global Positioning by Satellite (GPS) navigation, text messages to book hotel rooms and other services. It is already available in the Alfa 147 and Fiat Doblo in Italy, and will be fitted in the Maserati 3200, Alfa 156 and 166 before the end of the year.
The system will be available in the UK in the Alfa Romeo 147 from September. Early next year it will be added to the Fiat Stilo, the new Lancia executive car, most Ferraris and the replacement for the Fiat Ulysse MPV.
Fiat expects approximately 10% of customers to pay £900 for the additional telematics hardware package. This adds a five-inch on-screen colour dashboard display and hands-free telephone facility. Users pay £120 a year for a full package of Connect services.
The system uses a SIM card, which identifies the vehicle, user and language. It transmits a message to Fiat's multi-lingual call centre near Milan and a Connect assistance calls back within 30 seconds to speak to the motorist and provide the necessary assistance.
Europ Assistance and Targa Assistance are linked to the Connect system to provide emergency roadside services. This is likely to help Fiat control the repair process, by directing motorists to its dealerships for servicing and accident repair work.
Denis Chick, Trafficmaster communications director, said: “Future developments will include a 'route guard' service so delays on the 'guarded route' are communicated via SMS messages in real time as often as traffic conditions change. We expect Connect to be popular and other manufacturers will be rushing to copy what Fiat has done.”