Ford and Lincoln Mercury dealerships have begun offering security-conscious customers a new onboard, intelligent communication service that connects them with their car or truck. This optional system, SmartAlert, provides vehicle tracking and other security and peace-of-mind features vehicle owners say they want. It is available for most new and some previously owned vehicles.

With SmartAlert, owners can track their vehicle's location through wireless technology. The system shows the vehicle's location online, by email, phone, and through text messages and in the event of theft, it helps police locate the vehicle.

SmartAlert is built by SkyWay Systems, which joined Ford to announce an agreement to license the accessory through dealers at this year's National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) annual convention in Las Vegas.

More than 1.2 million vehicles are stolen in the United States each year and nearly 40 percent of them are never recovered. While vehicle tracking's main value is in locating stolen vehicles, the feature provides additional benefits.

"SmartAlert is a great service for owners who want to protect their vehicles from theft, parents who want to monitor teenage drivers and small-business owners who need to track the whereabouts of their vehicles," said Dr. Robert Yandrofski, Chairman & CEO of SkyWay Systems, Inc.

The system can issue an early alert to vehicle theft through a feature SkyWay calls an "invisible fence" around the vehicle. This feature alerts SkyWay of any unauthorized movement of the vehicle. Owners set or disable the feature through the SmartAlert web site.

Subscribers can also set speed alerts. When the vehicle exceeds a pre-set maximum speed, a notification is sent by email or text message. SmartAlert can also trigger remote door lock and unlock, either through a command module or from Skyway. One obvious benefit is unlocking a door when keys have been inadvertently locked in the car.

Included in the system is a monthly status report that can display vehicle locations on days and times during the month.

The SmartAlert system is sold and installed by Ford and Lincoln Mercury dealers. Retail price for the system will be approximately $999 and includes a 12 month subscription to the service. After the intial 12 months, a monthly subscription fee is necessary to continue the service.

While SmartAlert competes most directly with LoJack and General Motor's OnStar systems, SmartAlert has the additional benefit of complimenting Ford SYNC. Vehicle location information or speed alerts, for example, can be communicated by voice or text cell phone messages, both being hands-free for drivers using SYNC.