OnStar Announces Aftermarket Service for Non-GM Vehicles

By Chris Haak

One of the key selling features of many GM vehicles, at least according to GM, is the company’s OnStar telematics service.  While I’ve been critical of OnStar in the past for various reasons (for instance, GM’s inclusion of OnStar and its hands-free calling feature precluded the automaker from adding Bluetooth connectivity to most of its vehicles until the 2009 and later model years, long after other manufacturers had added it), there are certainly safety benefits to the service.  In my personal car, a 2008 Cadillac CTS, I subscribe to the bare-bones Safe & Sound package, which automatically notifies emergency services in the event of a crash, and allows me to activate the emergency button if it’s ever needed.

OnStar has also been doing its best to get its head out of its ass the sand regarding connectivity with smartphones and other user-supplied devices.  The OnStar smartphone app for Android and iPhone is particularly cool, allowing remote starts, unlocks, and status checks from the comfort of your phone.  Unfortunately, in many ways, OnStar is still behind key competitors such as Ford’s SYNC system with its functionality, and SYNC has seen a number of upgrades since its introduction to further enhance its appeal to consumers.

Yesterday, OnStar announced that it is launching a standalone OnStar package housed in an aftermarket mirror.  The mirrors are to be sold at Best Buy retail stores starting in the spring of 2011 for $299, plus an additional installation charge of $75 to $100.  The mirrors will feature nearly full OnStar functionality, including automatic crash response, link to emergency services, stolen vehicle location assistance, turn-by-turn navigation, roadside assistance, and handsfree calling.  After installation, service plans cost $18.95 per month.

We say “nearly full OnStar functionality,” because remote unlocking is not possible without further tearing apart the car’s wiring, if it’s even possible at all.  It’s extremely laborious to completely kill OnStar if you have it in your vehicle and don’t want it (click here for an example of how to kill it in a C6 Corvette; it’s not just a matter of pulling a fuse or cutting wires), which can be a good thing if you want your stolen car to broadcast its location to police.  But if the full functionality of OnStar is tucked into the mirror, and a thief sees an OnStar button in a car that’s not supposed to have OnStar, he or she can just grab the mirror, cut the wire, and toss it out the window.  Voila, no stolen vehicle tracking.

Then there’s the issue of what giving OnStar functionality to any competitive vehicle does to GM’s marketing of OnStar as a GM-exclusive service.  Though OnStar does not have dynamite customer retention rates after the service that comes with a new vehicle expires, surely some buyers consider OnStar’s safety net to be important enough that they would only consider a GM vehicle.  The obvious follow-up question is, is the company prepared to offer GM OnStar owners something special that the non-GM OnStar owners can’t get with their mirror-only OnStar systems?

To answer that question, at the CES show in Las Vegas, GM also showed a future 4G version of OnStar in a new Buick LaCrosse.  The “future” OnStar, according to Autoblog, might include

a vehicle monitoring system that utilizes a handful of lipstick cameras to transmit video to the driver to see what’s going on both inside and outside the vehicle while they’re away. On the same front, the system can be paired with Verizon’s 4Home service, which connects with home security cameras, lights and thermostats and transmits information back to the driver.

Other features include voice search, a traffic view that streams live traffic-cam images, Skype with video chat and a impact detection system that would identify if your car was hit in a parking lot, and would then turn on all the exterior cameras and capture an image of the offending vehicle as it drove away.

But back to the mirror-based aftermarket system, OnStar noted that it has certifed it to work on the 20 best-selling non-GM vehicles sold over the past 20 years, and it plans to add additional vehicles in the future:

  • Ford/Lincoln F-Series/Mark LT
  • Toyota Camry
  • Honda Accord
  • Dodge/Chrysler/VW Caravan/T&C/Voyager/Routan
  • Dodge Ram Pickup
  • Honda Civic
  • Ford/Mercury/Lincoln Explorer/Mountaineer/Aviator
  • Ford/Mercury Taurus/500/Sable/Montego
  • Toyota Corolla
  • Nissan Altima
  • Ford Focus
  • Ford/Mercury/Mazda Escape/Mariner/Tribute
  • Chrysler//Dodge Sebring/Stratus/Avenger
  • Ford/Mazda Ranger/Mazda Pickup
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • Honda CR-V
  • Toyota Tacoma
  • Ford/Lincoln Expedition/Navigator
  • Honda Odyssey
  • Ford/Mercury Crown Vic/Grand Marquis

Not explicitly stated, though, is whether owners of older GM vehicles with early analog-based OnStar telematics that went silent in 2008 after the FCC allowed cell phone companies to cease analog tranmissions could take advantage of the new device if they really wanted to.  There’s also the potential issue of replacing a vehicle’s rearview mirror that may have had other functionality not present in the OnStar mirror, such as automatic dimming, map lights, an integrated rearview camera, garage door buttons, compass, exterior themometer, or other features.  Too, we can’t be sure that the crash notifiation feature would work as well on the aftermarket OnStar as it would in the factory-installed version, which depends in part on knowing whether airbags have deployed.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next year or two.  Will it boost OnStar’s fortunes and add to its subscriber base?  Will it encourage additional competitors like Lexus Enform and SYNC to broaden the availability of their services?  Will it work as well as the “regular” OnStar service if it doesn’t have an external antenna?  Only time will tell.

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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7 Comments

  1. $18.95 a month (on top of up-front costs) seems awfully steep for what they’re providing:
    – automatic crash response (I understand the potential benefit, but the chances you’ll get in a life threatening crash with no witnesses is very slim)
    – link to emergency services (doesn’t everyone already own a cell phone? even a disconnected cell can dial out to 911)
    – stolen vehicle location assistance (with the advent of chipped keys, this is not nearly as needed as with older cars)
    – turn-by-turn navigation ($100 for a portable unit with lifetime maps)
    – roadside assistance (I pay $15/year for this through my insurance)
    – handsfree calling (I bought a $125 aftermarket car stereo with built-in bluetooth, works like a charm)

  2. I miss the Saabs in this list. Saab isn’t GM anymore, but has renewed their contract with OnStar, so they still offer OnStar on their cars.

  3. I am glad that they are doing this. We currently have a GMC vehicle and are looking at buying a new hybrid which is not GM, however, the safety feature of having ON STAR was one thing that had us kind of on a hold on what to do as we really do like having the onstar.However, I will admit, I do wonder since it is after-market if the crash sensors will work as well. I had a friend whom had onstar and thank goodness she did because she was knocked out, the other driver took off and her sensor went off and onstar notified the authorities. This allowed them to find her quickly when if she had not had it, it may have taken a very long time as was late at night and no street lights where she was knocked off the road at. Ultimately, it saved her from being out there for hours and very possibly dying.

  4. Does anyone know if you can get onstar for a 2001 Volvo V70XC or anything similar that will work?

  5. I went to test drive it before seeing this review, the only one they had on the lot was wrapped with advertising graphics. Now I know why… it made it look much better! What were they thinking???

  6. I have a 2007 Chrysler PT Cruiser. Will the Onstar after market system work in my car?

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