By on April 30, 2018

When General Motors first deployed OnStar, it was a little more than an emergency services hotline. Drivers in need could tap a blue button on their rearview mirror and immediately get in contact with an operator. The system could also do this automatically in the event of a crash. OnStar later introduced anti-theft measures, turn-by-turn navigation, and remote access as part of a subscription plan.

However, with General Motors seeing dollar signs wherever connectivity is involved, the automaker wants to retool the system. OnStar will continue offering existing services, but GM is changing the subscription model and placing a new emphasis on data acquisition. The good news is that the tiered payment model will offer more features starting in May. Unfortunately, some those amenities used to be free and those fed up with companies selling your data or paranoid about Orwellian Big Brother scenarios might be less enthusiastic about the long-term corporate vision.

In reality, the latter half of that equation isn’t really any more sinister than what’s currently being offered. OnStar can already keep track of and access your vehicle remotely. The difference is that GM is going to attempt to collect that data more effectively and monetize it for financial gain. The upshot is that it comes with new tech and connectivity features some of the public is likely to be very interested in — like in-car shopping and delivery services or advanced vehicle diagnostics sent directly to the dealership.

We’ve already seen the company pushing e-commerce via its Marketplace app. One of the more recent pilot programs involves a digital gas-payment system via its partnership with Shell. But GM has been offering digital purchasing deals through Groupon, Priceline, ExxonMobil through OnStar’s At Your Service for years now. Now it’s ramping those up by syncing more preferred (i.e. partnered) brands with its onboard Marketplace app.

One of the weirder ones is with Amazon, which allows OnStar to remotely provide access to delivery drivers if you want them to drop packages off inside your car. Provided you’re comfortable with someone accessing your vehicle to make a drop, it’s actually a handy little feature.

General Motors sees non-core businesses as a $1.5 billion profit growth opportunity, and a significant portion of it takes place behind the scenes. Monetizing data is something many  automakers are looking into and GM is right at the front of the pack. But that only works if a lot of people sign up for OnStar, so the company is sharing revenue with dealers who encourage customers to sign up.

Gerard Connell, director of sales and marketing for global connected customer experience, told Automotive News OnStar’s longterm strategy will continue to expand its services as GM focuses on data. Last week, during the Amazon announcement, CEO Mary Barra noted that the automaker will also expand into areas “that will generate revenue and profitability as we leverage the connectivity and then the ability to monetize data both in the vehicle and sharing it with other companies.”

In the short term, that means restructuring for OnStar. Starting this week, the service will go from three plans to five. The most basic is the $14.99 per month Remote Access package. That service, while previously free, allows customers to control key fob functions through their smartphone. Now, drivers will have to pay for the privilege. Connell says it’s worth it because it includes diagnostic services and other amenities.

“Really, the primary purpose of that basic plan is to make sure we know what’s going on with the car,” he said. “We can get them to a dealership and we can help them understand the state of their car.”

Stepping up to $24.99 a month grants customers access to OnStar’s Security package. This includes roadside assistance, navigation, and stolen-car recovery services. More expensive plans include additional connectivity services with the all-inclusive Connectivity, Safety, and Security package, coming in at $59.99 per month. As the most expensive tier, it comes bundled with unlimited data as well.

Overall, the new pricing makes everything a bit more expensive on the low and high end of the spectrum, but includes additional data services. You could argue that the prices should come down if General Motors plans to market to you directly through your car while selling your data to other companies.

It’s a shrewd move on the part of GM, and it’ll likely impress investors and boost revenue, but we’re less than enthusiastic about the strategy from the perspective of consumers. They’re losing some features that used to be free and opting into becoming both customer and commodity as a result of GM’s new data acquisition angle. Perhaps that’s the price of progress, but we’re wondering if it should be. We hope the automaker exercises some restraint and prioritizes the welfare of its consumer base as it continues hunting for alternative revenue streams and interesting new services.

In the meantime, you’ll have to take a look in the mirror and decide what you’re willing to put up with.

[Image: General Motors]

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35 Comments on “GM Revamps OnStar: Take a Long Look In the Mirror...”

  • avatar
    pale ghost

    For 15, 30 and 60 dollars a month they can keep it.

  • avatar

    They’re also slowly dropping Sirius implementation the way it used to be done. (You can still get a subscription and have the “app” as part of your infotainment options but they’re not giving you X days/weeks/months free.)

    My father-in-law was pretty shocked at that when he bought his new Terrain but given that he was willing to pay for in car 4G WiFi he’s just using his phone and Pandora/iHeart.

    Meanwhile I’ve been laughing at the reviews of new Toyota’s and how they managed to get Apple CarPlay but not Android Auto into the newest models.

    • 0 avatar

      “My father-in-law was pretty shocked at that when he bought his new Terrain but given that he was willing to pay for in car 4G WiFi he’s just using his phone and Pandora/iHeart.”

      How about this one: Upon picking up my 2018 Terrain SLE AWD w/ convenience pkg (@32.5 msrp), I was shocked to find out there was no XM/Sirius at all. The antenna is there, and the Equinox LT AWD with no extra packages I had just swapped with someone else had XM, but not this premium grade GMC.

      Oh well, for $230 a month (24 month lease and only paid 1st payment), I won’t worry about OnStar and their diagnostics…once the 3 months are up, I’m out.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      From what I understand, Toyota had some sort of dispute with Google’s own data acquisition tactics, and so refused to implement Android Auto. But they have implemented Alexa as well as Apple CarPlay.

      • 0 avatar

        I think I’m just going to rip it out and install a CD player, whose with me?

        • 0 avatar

          I don’t know if it’s even possible to install an aftermarket stereo in today’s cars. I do wonder though if it’s possible to cut off OnStar tracking and similar “connected” services by disconnecting the rooftop shark-fin antenna.

          • 0 avatar

            If you’re fine losing control of most of the comfort functions of your vehicle, and having a blank screen that just sits there, you can totally do it.

            I get integrated design, and the desire to make it look like everything fits into place, but the problem is that companies are integrating an experience that isn’t that great.

            I’d gladly welcome a return to the days of DIN and double DIN audio systems, with separate controls for everything else.

  • avatar

    GM (Guangzhou Motors) designs, engineers and builds dumpster fire-level vehicles in terms of (no)quality and (un)reliability…

    …so they will transition to a maker of rolling electronic tablets with a smorgasbord of apps (from paying for gasoline to paying for Tropical Smoothies to paying for re for diagnoses of inevitable vehicle problems) with hundreds of available credit/debt forms of payment, including the Guangzhou Motors Platinum Card, with 2x the points offered by VISA.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    “Really, the primary purpose of that basic plan is to make sure we know what’s going on with the car,” he said. “We can get them to a dealership and we can help them understand the state of their car.”

    You want to charge them 15 bucks a month so that they are more likely to come into a dealer? Pass

  • avatar

    Let me get it straight, not only they will be selling your data, but you have to pay them to do it?

  • avatar

    $15 a month for the formerly-free option of them unlocking your car when you forget your keys? Really? That seems pretty steep given how a bunch of companies are integrating the same function into an app for free.

    And I’m pretty sure precisely zero of the people that read this press release will think it’s some sort of fantastic benefit that they’ll send diagnostic data to your dealer for you. (If it WAS some sort of fantastic benefit, that wouldn’t speak well to GM’s reliability.)

    • 0 avatar

      About two months ago I somehow managed to lock myself out of my car after starting it, as I got out of the car to clear the snow off the windows. I’m still not sure how I managed the feat; my best guess is that I accidentally hit the power lock button on the door while I was climbing out and focusing on not dinging the car parked beside me.

      This was the first time in 16+ years of driving that I’ve needed someone to unlock my car for me. This was after midnight at a parking lot near the airport, and a dude in a Chevy S-10 arrived on the scene and had my car unlocked within 5 minutes of my calling for help. Cost was $40.

      Imagine if I’d been spending $15/month for the past 16 years to protect against this risk.

    • 0 avatar
      Secret Hi5

      Which automakers don’t charge for that service?
      For Lexus, the first year is free, and then there’s a monthly fee that depends on the package chosen.

      @JuniperBug: You were lucky to have a locksmith show up within 5 minutes. Think of the cost as being like insurance – Most customers will never recoup the cost of the coverage, in terms of dollar amount.

      • 0 avatar

        It wasn’t a locksmith; just local auto-club-type service (which is ubiquitous enough at the airport that they post the phone number for them in the parking lot). Tow truck drivers and even some taxis are also equipped to do it here. It takes about $100 worth of equipment and only a moderate amount of skill to open most cars, and they don’t do it through the keyhole.

        Charging 15 bucks a month to guard against a fee of $40 is very different from charging 50 bucks a month to guard against a $30,000 car write-off.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Time to figure out which fuse disconnects the OnStar module on my Chevrolet.

  • avatar

    Let me guess..the piece that dials OnStar if an airbag deploys is a paid option, or is that always active? This doesn’t say.

    And I suppose I can’t have the car E-Mail a monthly report any more without handing over my credit card, right?

    (I wonder if they’ll put you through so many layers of Bangalore he11 when you try to cancel this mess that they’ll retain people who simply slam the phone down/throw their smartphone at a wall as they give up in disgust!)

  • avatar

    well since I have never used the on star button in my three saabs I figure I am good.

  • avatar

    Pass on GM in general and their spyware in paticular. Why would I pay someone to invade my privacy?

    • 0 avatar

      Agree. But why do people have Alexa or Google home in their house? Why invite spyware/malware into your house? But if folks are ok with it at home, my guess is they will be ok with it in their cars. Price will be an issue, but as someone mentioned Fiance guy will happily bury the subscription price in the 6 year loan.

      • 0 avatar

        How many different “connectivity” toys do people need? I guess I’m a dinosaur, but most people would be way better off dumping their “connectivity” money into their 401(k)’s!

  • avatar

    Very soon, GM vehicle owners will need to download and app and pay to unlock AND start their vehicle (assuming it’s not broken down).

    Jack Baruth and his 38% Chinese parts-sourced (soon to be 50%) Silverado (assembled in Mexico) narrowly escaped the coming Guangzhou Motors “We Will Make Our Profit On Apps” business Poona roll out.

  • avatar

    How long until GM starts selling out its customers to the insurance racket? They hit you hard enough just for buying a V8 Camaro, but if you actually want to use that engine? They’ll have every stomp of the gas pedal in a spreadsheet.

    • 0 avatar

      Insurance companies dont really need to do that, all they have to do is convince cell phone companies and states that anonymously use cell phone ping data ( to determine traffic flow and speed ) to record and flag users as they pass by towers and send the insurance companies your data.

  • avatar

    hide a key, buy a map.

  • avatar

    The quintessential Baruth article, written by Matt. So long Jack, and catch you at R&T.

  • avatar

    I find the $20 per month all-you-can eat data to be quite a deal. Sign up for it most months we do a road trip. The kids and spouse can surf to their hearts content and is a better signal than sharing a cellphone Wi-Fi hotspot.

  • avatar

    Onstar in the cars, whether I want it or not, is a primary reason GM product hasn’t been on my cars-to-check-out-list for about 18 years now.

    I remember a conversation with a car dealer circa 2002. I was looking at a very well equipped Impala and asked for a non-Onstar option. They told me it wasn’t possible, standard equipment. I then asked for Onstar to be disconnected before delivery. Nope, not possible. You disconnect Onstar and the car won’t run. I ended up with a Hyundai Tiburon instead (yes, I know….but I didn’t know any better).

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