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GM's OnStar Said to Offer Free Services in Challenge to Ford

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GM's OnStar Said to Offer Free Services in Challenge to Ford

By Craig Trudell and Jeff Green - Sep 7, 2010 4:10 PM CT

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Signage promoting General Motors Corp.'s OnStar service sits on display at Cauley Chevrolet in West Bloomfield, Michigan. Photographer: Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg

General Motors Co.’s OnStar in-car communications unit may offer some free services next year to rival Ford Motor Co.’s Sync music and information system, two people familiar with the plans said.

OnStar, a subscription service that provides accident alerts, directions and vehicle diagnostics, is scheduled to introduce an upgraded system this month that links vehicles to the social media site Facebook and translates voice messages to text, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the details aren’t public.

In-car technology features attract tech-savvy consumers and allow carmakers to charge more for smaller, cheaper models, said Brandy Schaffels, an analyst at TrueCar.com. GM, the largest U.S. automaker, is adding features to keep pace with systems including Ford’s Sync.

“When Ford came out with Sync, they met OnStar’s services and upped the ante,” Schaffels, content manager at the Santa Monica, California-based researcher, said in an interview. “Technological features are where GM and Ford are going to found their reputation with the next generation.”

OnStar may begin offering entertainment and information services that link to a user’s smartphone without a subscription or fee, said one of the people. OnStar is now offered free in many models for the first year and then for $199 to $299 a year, depending on the features.

Jocelyn Allen, a spokeswoman for OnStar, declined to comment.


The voice-to-text system will be studied with a test audience while the company decides whether to offer it to all customers, the person said. The new version of OnStar will have enhanced services for emergency response, which alerts an OnStar operator when there is a vehicle crash, the person said.

OnStar will unveil a new advertising theme with the tagline “Live On,” while individual services will have their own themes, such as “Always On” to promote accident alerts, the people said.

The unit also is studying ways to use OnStar outside of the car, where immediate contact with an operator or access to other services such as safety or security might be useful, said the people, who declined to give specifics.

OnStar, available on more than 40 vehicles from GM’s 2011 model year, has about 5.7 million subscribers, according to a regulatory filing from Detroit-based GM. OnStar and Google Inc. said in June they would partner to offer eNav, a turn-by-turn navigation feature that allows drivers to send Google Maps destinations to their vehicle.

Ford Sync

Ford has been selling Sync, based on Microsoft Corp.’s in- car, voice-activated technology, since the 2008 model year, Alan Hall, a Ford spokesman, said in a telephone interview. The Dearborn, Michigan-based company added features such as touch- command controls and voice-activated climate control this year.

The technology, available as a $395 option on some models, helps make cars more profitable and is included standard on higher-end vehicles.

Ford said in January it plans to bring social networking, Web browsing and thumb controls similar to those on Apple Inc.’s iPod into 80 percent of its models by 2015.



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GM testing voice command to update Facebook status

DETROIT (AP) -- General Motors Co. is testing software that would let drivers talk to their cars to update status messages on the Facebook social media website, as well as listen to Facebook messages, the company said Wednesday.

The verbal updates would be made through GM's OnStar safety network and are part of the automaker's effort to use the OnStar brand to better compete with rival Ford Motor Co. in auto information and entertainment.

GM also is testing a feature that would read cellular telephone text messages to drivers and allow them to respond by picking one of four preset replies with a button on the steering wheel, GM said in a statement.

GM won't say when the features might make their way into its vehicles, but spokeswoman Jocelyn Allen said they must be evaluated thoroughly to make sure they don't distract drivers from paying attention to the road.

The automaker will announce soon that the OnStar brand will be used for high-tech radios, navigation systems and other dashboard electronics that will compete with Ford's Sync system by Microsoft.

OnStar, known mainly for its safety feature that calls for help in case of a crash in which air bags are deployed, is free on most GM vehicles for the first year, then costs $199 per year for a basic service and $299 for service that comes with turn-by-turn navigation and other features.



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