OnStar evolution

General Motors' Onstar unit will make its famous blue-button technology available in the aftermarket later this year, meaning that, by having a special mirror installed at Best Buy, you can put Onstar connectivity in your old Accord, PT Cruiser – heck, even a Bentley - and many other vehicles.

This begs the question: Is GM running a risk of cannibalizing its own business and sales? OnStar is supposed to help GM sell vehicles, not make it more convenient for people who drive competing vehicles to use the same features.

OnStar President Chris Preuss says GM considered this, but one reason it decided to introduce an aftermarket version is the growing competition it faces in built-in telematics.

That includes offerings from companies such as Hughes Telematics, which provides the Onstar-like mBrace system found in Mercedes vehicles, and ATX Group, which supplies Toyota Safety Connect, Lexus Enform and Hyundai's forthcoming Blue Link. Preuss says the aftermarket OnStar product may also inspire users to buy a GM vehicle.

“Look, everybody's going to embedded telematics in their vehicles. You're going to see more of that at the show here,” Preuss said. “Some of our competitors such as Hughes and others, they're trying to get into this space. Somebody else is going to go there.”

“We could just hold our hands pat and let somebody else take that opportunity.”

Hughes Telematics has also developed aftermarket products.

Preuss said GM is continuing to improve the embedded version of OnStar, which has one big advantage over the aftermarket version -- its connection to electronic brains of the car. That enables several major features of the technology, including vehicle diagnostics.

You can reach Leslie J. Allen at lallen@crain.com
Tags: CES

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