NARITA, Japan (AP) -- Even if we don't grow emotionally attached, we humans have a way of personalizing our machines.
And so it was that just hours into our weekend family drive, Nissan Motor Co.'s new wireless communication system had already been christened Lulu.
Don't ask how we arrived at that name.
It seemed to fit the electronic persona behind the childish, robotic voice that read aloud e-mail and the weather, found and directed us to the nearest gas station and provided other snippets of information -- all right inside the car.
The service does, of course, have an official name: Carwings.
Such "telematics" services with built-in global satellite positioning systems aren't new, but Carwings is unusual. An affordable $380 option on a cheap car, the $8,200 March compact, the basic service costs just $28 a year.
That's a serious bargain compared to services available in the United States such as General Motors Corp.'s OnStar, which starts at about $200 a year and includes features not available on Carwings, such as stolen vehicle tracking, remote-door unlock and emergency roadside assistance.
Carwings, available only in Japan, is a key option on the March, which is being marketed to Japanese women in "kitchen-inspired" colors including "apricot" and "beans" and will also be sold in Europe.
Nissan has received about 40,000 orders for the car since it hit showrooms in March, a solid number by Japanese standards, but only about 8 percent of buyers are opting for Carwings.
In the United States, Nissan plans to offer Wingcast, a telematics service from Ford Motor Co., in its 2003 Infiniti luxury models.
Here's how Carwings works:
Information is downloaded via mobile phone; the connector cable is located near the gear shift.
A download of several minutes brings up baseball scores, a guide to nearby festivals and traffic-congestion warnings on a liquid crystal display on the dashboard that is four inches across and about the width of a school ruler.
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