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Preuss sees data, fun in OnStar future

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Preuss sees data, fun in OnStar future

Chrissie Thompson

Automotive News -- March 29, 2010 - 12:01 am ET

DETROIT -- OnStar will attempt to broaden its safety and security image by including more infotainment if new boss Chris Preuss has his way.

OnStar is profitable and has logo recognition to rival Nike and Pepsi, Preuss says. So he plans to use OnStar's safety credentials to differentiate it from other automakers' in-car infotainment systems. Still, he says, customers are ready for more than OnStar's forte of emergency help and vehicle diagnostics.

In the near term, perhaps this year, that means more ways to connect smart phones with vehicles, Preuss says.

"We can do more. We need one structure for infotainment and connectivity," says Preuss, GM's former vice president of communications, who took over OnStar this month.

A natural expansion, Preuss says, would be more smart-phone applications like the one OnStar developed for the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid. The apps would allow drivers to use OnStar features like unlocking doors and reading vehicle diagnostics.

In the long term, OnStar is exploring voice-activated options such as Web searches or accessing e-mail. But there are two main obstacles:

1. OnStar's current 2G network carries less data than faster but spottier 3G networks.

2. Data transmission needed for much infotainment would eat up the minutes OnStar buys from Verizon and could erode profits.

OnStar is exploring hardware and software options, and sources say Preuss has met with Google and Microsoft.

Preuss says his main concern is keeping expansion in line with OnStar's current brand: "How you did infotainment would be consistent with the blue button."

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