LAS VEGAS--The future of the connected car involves--coupons? Yep, and that appears to be the commercial tradeoff for the convenience of road-trip Internet access.
General Motors, which leads the industry in building 4G LTE connectivity into cars--over 30 model-year 2015 autos will have it--is also leading the way into a new world of connected-car services. At a press conference on Sunday before the Consumer Electronics show, the company introduced several new OnStar programs designed to ease road trips and general maintenance. The services will require an active OnStar subscription.
What this means to you: General Motors isn't putting 4G LTE into all of its cars just so your kids can watch YouTube videos in the back seat. The new services show how car companies can use that bandwidth to interact more with the car and its driver--building trust, and also building more business opportunities. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but it's a new concept: The connected car becomes a vehicle for consumerism.
From diagnostics to drive-by coupons
The newly announced OnStar 4G LTE services include:
Proactive maintenance alerts: This service keeps tabs on the car's inner workings and sends messages to the driver when something needs attention. The somethings' will initially include just the battery, starter motor, and fuel pump--important components, to be sure--but GM promises to add more parts to the watchlist over time.
The service will debut on a small herd of 2016-model-year Chevrolets: The Corvette, the Equinox, the Silverado and Silverado HD, the Suburban, and the Tahoe.
Progressive insurance smart driver assessment program: By the summer of 2015, OnStar with 4G LTE users will be able to sign up for a 90-day survey of their driving habits. Drivers will get a detailed assessment based on data collected by OnStar, which they may choose to send to Progressive in hopes of getting a better rate on auto insurance. Even if that doesn't happen, the service will offer feedback for improving your driving.
The program will be available on a pretty wide selection of Chevrolets, including some 2013 and 2014 models, as well as most 2015 models and all 2016 models.
AtYourService: You're driving along, and you get the munchies. Or you need gas or even a hotel room. The new AtYourService program, launching early this year, will offer all kinds of travel data through a small, but growing list of partners.
For instance, GM has partnered with Dunkin' Donuts to help locate the nearest outlet while you're driving. Parkopedia will help you find available spots at your destination. RetailMeNot and Entertainment Book will provide digital coupons. AtYourService can look at your upcoming destinations and serve up data and offers based on your route. You can even buy an ebook through Audiobooks.com.
Early this year, GM will also begin a partnership with hotel booking site Priceline.com. This won't be something you can do yourself through your car, but an OnStar rep will be able to go through Priceline data, help you choose a hotel, and make the reservation for you.
I have no doubt that OnStar 4G LTE subscribers will enjoy these services and whatever others GM is cooking up. After all, does anyone miss the days of fighting with an unruly paper map, wondering where to find lunch in a strange place, or worrying about car breakdowns? Of course not. I also expect that as more car companies roll out 4G LTE cars, we'll see similar offerings from them as well.
And yet...say you've paid GM for the car with 4G LTE and the OnStar subscription, and you're paying AT&T for the data plan. The idea that you've paid for all that for the privilege of paying for yet more things might make perfect sense in our capitalist, consumerist society, but it seems relentless, too.
As connected cars bring the consumer experience straight into the passenger compartment, it's important to drive into this new world with both eyes on the road. What do you think about the promise of connected cars? Let us know in the comments.