Volt-Google Android Cooperation Presages Next-Gen Onstar System

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

GM’s OnStar division is preparing for a big push into new info-tainment and connectivity services, and it’s launching the effort at Google’s I/O conference starting tomorrow. First up is a new Google-maps-based navigation feature for Android phones running the Chevy Volt mobile app, featured in the video above [ presser here]. Though this new navigation system won’t be available at launch, but will emerge in a 2.0 version of the Volt mobile app, it hints at a new direction for OnStar, which traditionally markets itself as a safety feature. A senior (anonymous, sorry) source at GM took a moment to explain where this is all heading….

In essence, OnStar is being developed to be “seamless” with mobile smartphones, and the Volt is the guinea pig for this next generation of capabilities. In addition to the recently-added navigation features, the Volt mobile app will be able to

  • Charge status display – plugged in or not and voltage (120V or 240V)
  • Flexibility to “Charge Now” or schedule charge timing
  • Display percentage of battery charge level, electric and total ranges
  • Ability to manually set grid-friendly charge mode for off-peak times when electricity rates are lowest
  • Send text or email notifications for charge reminders, interruptions and full charge
  • Display miles per gallon, electric only miles, and odometer readings
  • Shows miles per gallon, EV miles and miles driven for last trip and lifetime
  • Remotely start the vehicle to pre-condition the interior temperature

Because OnStar can securely communicate with vehicle controls, GM believes that integrating mobile phones creates “almost no end to the cool things we can do in this space.” And that means eventually migrating these capabilities to other vehicles besides the Volt. Our source explains:

We can do this because Volt has the next-gen hardware for OnStar. That hardware goes to all GM products for 2011 model year…so of course, we’d be able to proliferate the approach.

Of course, “some infrastructure issues” are still standing in the way of an official announcement, but we’re told to expect a “re-launch” of the OnStar brand “within the next couple of months.” OnStar’s “killer app… a human being who actually thinks and acts on the other end of the blue button” will remain the centerpiece of the brand, but building infotainment and mobile integration into the next-generation of OnStar as a compliment to traditional safety-oriented features is seen as the best way to grow the brand.

And though the navigation feature that will be highlighted this week is available on Android phones only, GM isn’t putting all its eggs in one basket. Apple and RIM (Blackberry) will be fully integrated as well, and a new Human Machine Interface (HMI) would not require a partnership as Android is free and open to developers. GM is apparently in talks with several outfits to develop an HMI architecture that is “truly open.”

Onstar has always been a bit of an odd duck: it’s a tech toy for people who don’t have or like tech toys. The simple function and human interaction make it ideal for the safety-conscious yet tech-unsavvy demographic… in other words, people who aren’t married to a cell phone. But as cell phones with features like navigation and roadside assistance become increasingly common, even among non-early-adopters, OnStar’s traditional mission (peace of mind) is becoming less relevant. And unlike Ford’s SYNC system, OnStar hasn’t targeted the tech-for-tech’s-sake crowd with entertainment features and phone-car integration. If the next-generation of OnStar can blend its traditional strengths with the kinds of features that allegedly brings younger buyers into SYNC with Ford, GM will be making one of many necessary steps it needs to around perceptions of its business.

After all, mobile phone culture is already leaving quite the impact on car marketing.

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  • Turbobeetle Turbobeetle on May 18, 2010

    I don't get why some people would spend $$$ on having smart phone functions built into their car. I ordered a $5 cradle for my smartphone and hang it on the dash (remember the red mustang in the movie Kickass??)... Now my car has 3G internet, Pandora radio which bluetooths into the radio, navi, hands free, voice dial, voice to text, gmail, fart sounds, and whatever app I want to download to it. I know there might be a perk or two for the onstare/sync system over what I'm doing but I don't see the value for it when it cost me 5 bucks to mount my phone to the dash.

  • Mcs Mcs on May 18, 2010

    There are some possibilities here. With the tie-in to Google, it may be possible to offer an advertising supported version of Onstar. Especially if they decide to build an Android based tablet right into the car. Imagine how much an oil company would pay Onstar for an audio ad to be run right after the low fuel warning chime goes off. Use geolocation to tell the driver where the nearest station selling their brand is located. Tie the system into the maintenance tracking system or give it access to the odometer reading so that Jiffy lube can run an ad when an oil change is due. The most obnoxious I suppose would be for a personal injury attorney ad to run if a rear end collision is detected! They could pull in a ton of extra money with a system like that. I'd really be surprised if that isn't something they are looking at. Who knows, maybe we'll see ad supported cars at some point.

  • Alan GM is still dying. The US auto manufacturing sector overall needs to restructure. It is heavily reliant on large protected vehicles with far more protection than the EU has on its vehicles (25% import tariff).Globally GM has lost out in the EU, UK, Australia, etc. GM has shut down in Australia because it is uncompetitive in a global market. Ford still exists in Australia but is reliant on a Thai manufactured pickup, the Ranger which is Australia's second largest selling vehicle.The US needs to look at producing global products, not 'murica only products. Asians and Europeans can do it. America is not unique.
  • Duane Baldinger Ya my cupcake Mailman will love it!
  • Duane Baldinger Where can I send the cash? It's a surprise BDAY present for my cupcake Mailman. D Duane
  • Art Vandelay Pour one out for the Motors Liquidation Corporation
  • Bill Wade Norm, while true I'll leave you with this. My 2023 RAM is running Android 8 released in 2017.My wife's navigation on her GM truck is a 2021 release, I believe the latest. Android Auto seems to update very week or two. Now, which would you rather have? Anybody with a car a couple of years old NEVER sees any updates. Heck, if your TV is a few years old it's dead on updates. At least cell phones are rapidly updated. If your old phone won't update, buy another $200 phone. If your GM vehicle doesn't update do what, buy another $50,000 GM vehicle?