OnStar In Action

By Charles Krome

GM’s OnStar technology has been around for some 15 years now, and its impact on the auto industry is hard to overstate. OnStar essentially kicked off the whole automotive telematics industry in 1996, blazing the trail for today’s ubiquitous nav and hands-free calling systems, as well as more comprehensive offerings like Ford’s SYNC.

It’s not just an expensive toy, either. The current OnStar system offers functionality that can be legitimately called “life-saving.” If you’re in an accident, for example, the system can automatically send emergency medical services to your location in minutes, even if you’re unconscious or can’t otherwise respond. And it can come in pretty handy when dealing with a range of less serious annoyances, from getting yourself locked out of your car to having it stolen. In the latter case, OnStar can track down your ride and then shut down power to its engine in some situations.

Yes, OnStar might also make it technologically feasible for third parties to listen into your in-car conversations without your knowledge, monitor your location, and keep track of when and how fast you operate your vehicle, but I’m sure we can trust GM not to let anyone abuse those abilities, right?

And if you thought that one was funny, consider this: The big news at OnStar right now isn’t any of that stuff I just mentioned, but the fact that a record number of requests for directions were taken by advisors in July, with more than 2 million routes provided to drivers last month. The punch line: The most popular destination, with almost 40,000 requests, was Wal-Mart.

That’s like more than 1,280 GM drivers calling for directions to a Wal-Mart every single day—or more than 50 people every hour.  And really, folks, is Wal-Mart that hard to find?  Many of them have such giant parking lots with so many lights that they serve as a beacon at night for miles, helping lost travelers orient themselves to their surroundings.

Now, GM has definitely been on a roll lately. As Autosavant’s head savant Chris Haak reported, the General’s second-quarter financial results swung from a loss of $12.9 billion in 2009 to a net income of $1.3 billion this year, which was apparently good enough for CEO and chairman Ed Whitacre to pull a “mission accomplished.” Whitacre will give up his CEO position on September 1 and vacate the chairmanship by the end of the year.

But the flip side of this success has been a growing reliance on incentives, fleet sales, and sales of big pickups and SUVs, none of which exactly reflect strategies that will be sustainable in the long run. Needless to say, that means there’s an awful lot riding on the Chevrolet Volt and Chevrolet Cruze, both of which are going to carry relatively high MSRPs. The former starts at a net $33,500 and the base price of the latter can be as high as $22,695—that’s more than it costs to get into any of today’s mainstream mid-size sedans. Which isn’t to say the Volt and Cruze aren’t “worth” that kind of money.

I personally think those price points aren’t at all out of line for what you get for your money—I just have to wonder if GM’s current customer base of OnStar-assisted bargain hunters will agree.

Author: Charles Krome

Charles Krome is a long-time automotive journalist who spent more than 10 years on the inside at General Motors and Ford, and also has corporate communications experience with Audi, Porsche and BASF Automotive Refinish. As a big motorsports fan growing up in the Detroit area, Krome was lucky enough to be able to attend numerous NASCAR, Indy car, F1 and SCCA events while still in his formative years. This, combined with a childhood that included significant (passenger) seat time in cars from Lotus and Jensen Healey, made him a car guy at an earlier age. Today, he lives in metro Detroit with his car wife, raising car kids.

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3 Comments

  1. As a Libertarian, I would never buy a car that had On-Star. It’s simply way too “1984” for my tastes.

  2. Yeah, it is interesting how they talk about privacy, but will still share aggregated data.

    I wonder how Joel Ewanick feels about OnStar blabbing that Chevy buyers primarily want to go to Wal-Mart. Is that something BMW would talk about? It’s at least an indirect commentary on the type of buyer who would buy a Chevy.

  3. I hear you, Chris. I was frankly shocked that GM put out a press release on this.

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