Honda upgrades its car navigation system with earthquake and weather information

Honda's car navigation system already maps the quickest route to a destination, avoiding traffic jams. Now, drivers will get information about earthquakes and warnings of heavy rainfall ahead on roads.

Honda Motor Co.'s service, shown to reporters Wednesday, will be offered starting with the remodeled Fit subcompact going on sale in Japan later this year. There are no plans so far to offer it overseas, executive Manabu Nishimae said.

"We believe information services are an important part of a car's quality," he told reporters.

The service is free, but drivers pay mobile phone bills for relaying data. Data transmission cards for a set monthly fee of 1,000 yen (US$8; $6) are available for frequent users. About 530,000 drivers use the current navigation service in Japan, or about 40 percent of Honda owners.

With the latest upgrade, e-mail warnings will be sent to a pre-assigned address when car with the system is in an area of a strong earthquake - handy in a quake-prone nation. If heavy rain is forecast on a planned route, icons of exclamation marks pop up on the monitor.

Japan's No. 2 automaker also upgraded its map system so updates take just a few minutes to download. Up to now, disks with map data had to be changed.

Tokyo-based Honda said it found a way to compress data so that portions of a map, such as new roads, get relayed piecemeal. On average, driving time is cut by 20 percent, according to Honda.

All the world's major automakers offer car navigation services, including some that give guides to nearby restaurants, automatically call ambulances in accidents and connect to human operators, give guide to nearby restaurants.

One of the features of Honda's system is that it collects information from individual Honda cars on the road. For example, in the new earthquake notification service, the system will be able to show which roads have been shut down.

This kind of detailed information could even tell drivers exactly which lane of a freeway is congested, said General Manager Takeshi Imai.

"Honda's telematics is already moving toward the next stage," he said.