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Consumer Electronics Show: Pandora's Tim Westergren on car connectivity, smartphones and a potential IPO

January 8, 2011 |  2:00 pm

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As major automakers took the stage one after the other at CES, it wasn’t just their sweeping vehicle connectivity plans that made them sound like a broken record.  It was the constant reference to Pandora.

The Internet radio company, led by founder Tim Westergren, will offer its services through smartphones integrated into infotainment designs from Ford, Toyota, BMW and several other car companies.

Westergren still remembers talks several years ago with the automakers gaining “no momentum,” when the focus was all on spiffy navigation technology.

But then smartphones such as the iPhone emerged and the market for Pandora “just went berserk” and the audience doubled, he said at the electronics show in Las Vegas. The company’s music platform is now accessible from more than 200 devices.

Once users started plugging various gadgets into their vehicle auxiliary jacks, automakers finally perked up and took notice.

“The phones changed the whole equation,” Westergren said, sitting in a Ford Mustang, which will access Pandora through the AppLink feature. “Now, if you want to be a radio service, that’s half the market. It feels like we’ve reached critical mass.”

Catering to customized radio listeners as they drive is now a “huge priority” for Pandora, where “a quarter of the staff is chasing cars right now,” he said.

“We’re kind of in execution  mode right now,” Westergren said. “We want to be in every single car on every single phone.”

Well, maybe every car but, Westergren himself listens to his favorite Ben Folds channel on his iPhone and iPad while taking public transportation.

Looking forward, he said he might consider taking the company public.

“We’ve been through a long road to get here,” he said. “This company should have been dead long ago. But now I can be more ambitious about what we can accomplish. It’s surreal.”

RELATED:

Consumer Electronics Show: Livio puts Pandora in a new box

CES: Toyota Entune and BMW ConnectedDrive telematics systems

— Tiffany Hsu

Photo: Pandora head Tim Westergren at CES. Credit: Tiffany Hsu

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