For all of General Motors faults and foibles over the past several decades, its OnStar system has proved to be a solid contender, and a leader in the telematics field. Now Ford appears to want a piece of the live-assistance action for itself, beginning a new trial of operators to support SYNC Services.

If you're thinking Ford's move to live operators might not be a competitive response to OnStar, think again: right out of the gate, Ford pitches the live operator trial as a way to make it easier to get directions of find businesses--the central functions of OnStar aside from its safety features.

Unlike OnStar, however, Ford's SYNC Operator Assist, as it's formally called, is activated by a voice command rather than a button press--but you'll have to press a button before you can issue your voice command, making us wonder why Ford didn't just dedicate a button to the feature. The actually operators services are outsorced to MyAssist, an independent telematics and live assistance company.

SYNC Services is Ford's automated cloud-based information access system, providing traffic, news, sports, weather, horoscopes, stock quotes, movie listings and business searches in addition to turn-by-turn directions. According to David Gersabeck, SYNC Services product manager, about 70 percent of all SYNC Services calls are for business searches and directions.

Adding Operator Assist to the SYNC Services system allows users to get additional help if the computer information isn't meeting their needs or the voice request isn't understood.

"We want Ford SYNC Services customers to have the peace of mind that comes with knowing they can get where they’re going or want to go," said Gersabeck. "Being able to connect with a live person at any time contributes to that peace of mind."

Catching up against OnStar's 15 years of experience, especially now that you can buy the units at electronics stores without having to own a GM vehicle, will be tough. Right now the test is in "beta" phase, meaning a limited release to select participants.