18 May 2010

GM's New Volt to Use Google's Android Software

The Wall Street Journal

General Motors Co. has paired with Google Inc. to create new features for the soon-to-launch Chevrolet Volt that combine the technology giant's Android smartphone with the auto maker's OnStar technology system.

Further pairings between GM and Google are in the works as the auto maker looks for ways to better leverage OnStar to attract new, younger buyers, according to people familiar with the discussions.

"There can be a technological tour de force beyond just vehicle applications," OnStar President Chris Preuss said. "We're looking to enhance the value proposition on OnStar to make us more competitive."

On Tuesday, the auto maker said Volt owners, using GM's OnStar information system and Google Android operating system, will be able to track the location of their vehicle on their Android phone.

The phone also will allow owners to use voice recognition software ask for Google map directions to be sent to the vehicle and delivered to the driver by OnStar's navigation system, which gives turn-by-turn routes to drivers.

In addition to the Google features, GM already planned several features that would join the Volt and OnStar with smart phones, including the ability to charge the vehicle remotely and monitor battery power from a mobile device.

The moves are the latest indication of how electronics and in-car information systems are becoming a key battleground for car makers used to competing on horsepower and mileage.

In the past few years, Ford Motor Co. has used its in-car data system, Sync, to lure customers to its vehicles. Based on technology developed by Microsoft Corp., Sync allows drivers to control a car's entertainment system with voice command and can link to smartphones and music players such as Apple Inc.'s iPod.

While Sync is primarily positioned as an entertainment system, OnStar is marketed as an in-car information system that offers safety and navigation assistance and can relay calls for emergency help, diagnose mechanical problems and track down stolen vehicles.

"OnStar's biggest problem is that the things it does well it does in unfortunate circumstances," said auto analyst Jim Hall of 2953 Analytics.Hall said.

GM has relied on OnStar to provide features such as hands-free calling and navigation, in which a driver can call an OnStar operator to get directions. Years ago, these perks gave GM an advantage over rivals.

But technologies such as in-car and smart phone global positioning systems and Blue Tooth for mobile phones has eclipsed OnStar's capabilities, making it less of an asset, he said.

GM says OnStar has 5.5 million users. About half of subscribers opt to keep and pay for the service after the first free year, according to a person familiar with the number.

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