The term "road warrior" has come to mean "frequent flier." But long before airplanes dominated the business-travel landscape, "road" meant road. Salespeople have long known that the car is the vehicle of choice for calling on customers. These days, the auto is reemerging for more businesspeople who are looking to avoid long security lines at airports or simply to expand business opportunities close to home. The good news: Some very cool new tools have hit the market to turn the cockpit of your car into a terrific office. Here's everything you need to be an efficient, productive — and safe! — windshield warrior.
Hands-free phone system
Your mobile phone is the most important gadget you use in your car, so it's critical to get a good hands-free system to help minimize distractions when you drive and ensure that you really do keep both hands on the wheel. Plus, a good system will help you multi-task when you're parked. Our pick: the Audio 3000 system by Handsfree USA, which allows voice dialing, one-touch answering, Bluetooth capability, and various data-connection services (allowing you to use your laptop to send and receive faxes, as well as connect to the Internet, when your car is parked). When professionally installed, the Audio 3000 allows you to hear phone calls through your car-stereo speakers. If you add a "vehicle-wiring harness," your stereo will mute itself for incoming and outgoing calls. How cool is that? (Visit www.hands free-usa.com. Price: Starts at $800; varies depending on installation method.)
With GPS, you may never use MapQuest again. Systems such as the Alpine NVE-N852A DVD PowerNav combine GPS navigation with DVD-ROM mapping software, matching information about your exact location with maps of freeway exits, local points of interest, and street-level details. For long trips, you can plan a route based on addresses from your contact list, inserting stops and detours along the way. The 5.8-inch LCD display installs in the dashboard and has a split-screen option, allowing you to view a map of the route while reading text directions. You can also use the voice option to hear directions out loud. (Visit www.alpine.com. Price: $1,700.)
Every car needs a stereo system. These days, however, we're not talking about simple radios or cassette decks. Dashboard stereos have morphed into receivers that control CD players, MP3 players, DVD players, and satellite radio. The Clarion Joyride Entertainment System uses an Intel Pentium processor to play MP3 files (from flash cards), commercial and recordable CDs, and DVDs. Its two-zone controls mean that during family road trips, you can listen to music while you drive and let the kids watch a DVD from the backseat with the fold-down monitor. (Visit www.clarion.com. Price: $2,700.) Add the Whitefire wireless headphones system from Unwired Technology, and one child can watch a movie while another listens to MP3s, all while you listen undisturbed to the news or your favorite radio station. (Visit www.unwiredtechnology.com. Price: $600.) For the latest in entertainment options, look for a system that includes satellite-radio capability from either Sirius Satellite Radio or XM Satellite Radio. For a monthly subscription fee of between $10 and $13, you get 100 channels on Sirius and 101 channels on XM of national news and weather, endless music stations, and other themed channels. (Find out more about the services offered at www.siriusradio.com and www.xmradio.com.)
Do you travel in cold-weather climates? If so, don't waste valuable meeting time (and more important, don't freeze!) while you sit in the car waiting for the engine to warm up. Instead, try installing a remote-starter kit: the Audiovox APS 785 allows you to start the car's engine from up to 1,000 feet away. The car alarm remains active during remote start, and you can hop in and drive away as soon as the engine is warm. (Visit www.audiovox.com. Price: less than $100.)
Sidebar: "Fill 'er up with premium, and give me 20 minutes of Wi-Fi with that."
For the latte-sipping businessperson who wants to surf the Web, there's Starbucks and its partnership with T-Mobile. For the automotive set, reliable Internet access from the road requires a different solution. Enter the Wi-Fi service offered at Conoco-Phillips gas stations — featuring access coupons from Toshiba. By combining forces with Conoco- Phillips, Toshiba will outfit up to 10,000 Wi-Fi hot spots by the end of 2003, including gas stations and Circle K convenience stores. Windshield warriors can pull down email, update presentations, and pick up a slushy.
A version of this article appeared in the June 2003 issue of Fast Company magazine.