Sprint Nextel wants to play a major role in the development of “connected transportation,” the CEO of the US telecommunications group said.

“At Sprint, our vision goes beyond connecting millions of cars,” Dan Hesse said, in a speech to the Detroit Economic Club.

Hesse said he expects vehicles to become “multi-dimensional communication centers” that are linked to each other and to a transporation infrastructure through voice, data and images.

Such capabilities, Hesse said, “provide significant safety benefits, enhance fleet management logistics for businesses and have a potentially profound impact on environmental sustainability.”

Hesse cited several partnerships where Sprint’s networks and machine-to-machine technology is coming into play. Among these are Hyundai’s Blue Link connected vehicle program; a new integrated mobile computing, telematics and navigation system under development at truck maker Paccar; and a wireless connectivity project for electric vehicles run by ECOtality, a US-based electric transportation developer.

Sprint and other telecommunications companies are keen to play a bigger role in transportation and the auto industry as traditional carmakers increasingly work together with companies from other sectors. That trend reflects a change in the car business, where electric vehicles, connected cars and more sophisticated in-car infotainment systems are creating new mobile business opportunities for a range of non-traditional automotive players.