The future of GM's OnStar could be "I've fallen and I can't get up"

At CES, OnStar introduced an aftermarket rearview mirror that could widen the company's reach to 55 million cars, including Ford, Honda and Nissan models. Now that it's made the move out of General Motors vehicles, we grabbed a moment with Greg Ross, OnStar's vice president of business extensions, and Vijay Iyer, the firm's director of corporate communications, at the Detroit Auto Show to see what other ideas are in play for the service.
  • "The brand is well known for safety and security, so we're looking for other ways to apply that," Ross said. Personal security and fall detection, such as a device for seniors, are possibilities being looked at. "It could be a safety button or similar device that knows if you've fallen down."
  • OnStar already has a tie to personal safety: as part of a pilot program, it provides crash data to the CDC and the University of Michigan that they can match accident data with medical data. After a crash, "they get a body – they know what a person looks like but they don't what happened. We add data from the accident so they can piece together the nature of the injuries, such as determining if there could be internal bleeding. It can also help us design safer vehicles, and one of the benefits is that it has given us higher priority access to 9-1-1 since the emergency personnel can be sure of what's happened."
  • On the subject of getting OnStar better and more aspirational brand awareness, Ross emphasized that OnStar is already one of the most important features for GM buyers. "We have six million customers in the U.S., Canada and China and 50 percent keep the system when the trial period ends. And OnStar wasn't the feature dropped in the recession."
  • Unlike Ford's SYNC, even though OnStar has features like Facebook integration and Bluetooth based text-to-voice, it doesn't have voice-activated control of its media features. When asked when that might come, Iyer would only say "The infotainment system will grow." Ross said, "All manufacturers can catch up with raw features, they've become commodities. Trying to figure out the human interface in a manageable way is a big thing, versus rushing things out."
  • Ross, however, feels that OnStar is fundamentally ahead of the competition because of its integration – the OnStar unit doesn't rely on communicate through your mobile phone, it is a dedicated communication device with its own phone number. "Devices want to be smart, they want to communicate. But the ability to remotely interact with the car is only possible with embedded technology, and we have that."

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