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DETROIT (AP) -- Microsoft Corp. and Fiat SpA have formed a partnership to develop a standardized system for designing wireless communications into vehicles made by the Italian automaker, the biggest deal yet for the American software giant's automotive business.

The goal of the alliance, announced Thursday, is to create a flexible, easy-to-use telematics system for Fiat and its Lancia and Alfa Romeo brands sold in Europe, the companies said.

The best known telematics system may be OnStar from General Motors Corp., whose services include diagnostic information, roadside assistance and stolen-vehicle recovery capabilities.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but Microsoft marketing manager Peter Wengert said it's the largest deal of its kind for the Redmond, Wash.-based company's auto division.

Only four or five years ago telematics primarily involved navigation systems in a few high-end cars. Today, some form is available on 255 models representing 39 brands globally, according to the Minnesota-based Telematics Research Group. That is up from 200 models and 32 brands a year ago.

Wengert said Microsoft hopes to illustrate the effectiveness of standardizing systems for entire lines of vehicles with the Fiat initiative -- and sell other automakers on it. To date, Microsoft's telematics customers include Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Citroen, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota and Volvo.

"It's the first time our automotive software will be partnered with a (manufacturer) across all their brands and product lines," he said.

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