Ford management credits the company's Microsoft-based Sync system for its post-2008 success as much as it does any particular car or truck in the Ford lineup.

Since the voice-activated infotainment and mobile phone-control system was launched at about the same time as the stopgap 2008 Ford Focus, it has become a lucrative option on Fiestas and Tauruses (and standard on some Lincolns). Since then, the automaker has added MyFord and MyLincoln systems that utilize voice activation to control everything from navigation and the radio to heating/air-conditioning/ventilation and your mobile phone.

Consumer Reports criticized the 2011 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX systems in its annual new-car issue, though, prompting Ford global marketing, sales, and service chief Jim Farley to introduce an extended dealership experience. The idea, Farley explained at the Chicago show, is to get new customers back into the dealership for a full tutorial on Sync and the MyFord/MyLincoln systems.

While the systems are hands-free, they require owners to know which words are necessary to trigger controls. The technology is supposed to make driving easier and less distracted. Is it easier to remember specific key words than to twist a radio or HVAC knob?

Chevrolet is hoping so. After four years of ceding the technology to the Ford Motor Company, Chevy has announced MyLink, which it calls "smartphones on wheels." The technology combines General Motor's OnStar safety and security system with online services via Bluetooth technology that uses voice recognition from a Massachusetts company, Nuance. MyLink launches later this year on the 2012 Chevy Volt and Equinox and features a 7-inch, high-resolution display screen.

Similar systems with different trademark names will be available in various 2012 GMC, Buick, and Cadillac models. They will add stereo audio streaming and wireless, hands-free smartphone control.

MyLink adds flash memory to the USB device connections, and brings Pandora Internet radio, Gracenote tune identification, and Stitcher SmartRadio streaming podcasts, radio, and news into the '12 Chevy Volt and Equinox. Chevrolet says Nuance "allows simple voice commands to initiate phone calls and select radio stations or media from portable MP3 players and smartphones."

But will the voice commands be simpler than Ford's Sync?