MIKE COLIAS

Death knell for the navi?

Mike Colias covers General Motors for Automotive News.
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DETROIT -- When I bought a new vehicle last year, I politely passed on the navigation system.

I figured it wasn't worth an extra two grand or so when I could buy a GPS system for one-tenth as much. And I've got plenty of map access with my iPhone.

It's a calculus that more and more drivers are making. But lately I've questioned the decision.

Every time I divert my eyes from the road to peer at the small GPS screen (or the smaller iPhone screen -- don't tell Ray LaHood), I'm reminded of how nice it would be to have big, bright map in the center stack.

A new technology that General Motors trotted out Wednesday eventually could give people a more compelling reason to eschew a pricey navigation system.

GM plans to offer a $50 navigation app, called GogoLink, that streams through the driver's iPhone or Android system and is displayed on the vehicle's 7-inch MyLink infotainment screen. The driver can control the system through the touch screen while listening to voice directions.

The ability to run a navigation app through the vehicle's infotainment system is an industry first -- and could be another nail in the navi coffin.

GM is catering to tech-savvy and budget-conscious buyers by debuting the app on the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic and new Chevrolet Spark minicar.

Of course, MyLink will be available only on higher trim levels. Pricing hasn't been announced.

GM estimates that 90 percent of the buyers of the Sonic or Spark, which will be launched this summer, have smartphones.

In contrast, 49 percent of GM's overall customer base has smartphones, says Sara LeBlanc, GM's global infotainment manager.

But as older people get more comfortable with their smartphones, they could reach the same conclusion as those 20-somethings: "Why fumble with a foreign navigation system when I can get it on my phone?"

For now, GM seems more concerned with offering buyers what they want than the potential hit to profit margins that could happen if customers abandon navigation systems.

LeBlanc says: "The customers are going to tell us what they want."

You can reach Mike Colias at mcolias@crain.com.

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