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.