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You don’t have to be a petrolhead to know that the motor industry has been among sectors hardest hit by the economic downturn. Even those with a cursory awareness of the financial situation in the US will be aware that once-mighty US companies such as General Motors and Chevrolet are currently reduced to passing the begging bowl around for bail-outs.

Happily, however, that doesn’t seem to have put a halt to innovation at one US marque. This week Ford announced that is to introduce what it claims is "the world’s first broadband-capable in-dash computer system” to higher-end vans and trucks.

This will allow owners to get online via Sprint Nextel’s mobile broadband network. Meanwhile, an Opera Mini browser is to be pre-installed, with LogicMeIn Pro also on-board to let drivers remotely access Windows desktops and servers.

According to Rod Hamlin, senior vice president of Opera America, the system "will allow Ford truck and van owners to maintain a virtual work environment with access to all of the important files, information and applications they need".

The move represents a genuine innovation for Ford vehicles and we can see both trucking companies and private clients alike going for in-vehicle broadband in a big way. But whether that’ll be enough to save Ford from cheaper Japanese models and the slump in consumer spending is a different matter.

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