Late to the party, GM brands push hard on infotainment
DETROIT -- General Motors is rolling out infotainment systems this summer at both ends of its model lineup: one for pricey Cadillacs and another in a $13,000 Chevolet Spark mincar.
Those systems -- with different names, product-development teams and suppliers -- illustrate the challenges inherent in GM's budding infotainment strategy. All automakers are trying, with mixed results, to deliver systems that are simple to use yet robust enough to handle the expanding list of tasks that consumers want. But GM is attempting more: It wants to get it right on multiple infotainment offerings across its four brands.
So far the results have been pretty good, based on feedback from analysts and reviewers. The Cadillac User Experience system, or CUE, has won plaudits for an uncluttered design with intuitive commands that mimic smartphones. The Chevy MyLink system recently launched on the Spark and Sonic subcompact is "the poster child for doing low-cost infotainment the right way," says Mark Boyadjis, an analyst at IHS Automotive.
That's high praise considering GM's relatively late arrival to the infotainment party. The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, for example, was the last mid-sized sedan on the market to get a touch-screen system, Boyadjis says.
Philip Abram, GM's chief infotainment officer, says the bookends of Cue on the Cadillacs and MyLink on the least expensive cars in GM's U.S. lineup reflect a tailored approach to in-car technology. For example, GM knew that a $2,000 navigation system in a $13,000 car was a "nonstarter," he says. So GM teamed with a Korean software developer to offer a $50 smartphone application that allows Spark and Sonic owners to display turn-by-turn directions on their 7-inch MyLink screen.
"It's about understanding the customer and having the context to make those tradeoffs," says Abram, a former executive at Sony Corp.'s TV unit who was hired by GM in January from Sonos Inc., which makes wireless home audio systems. "We want to offer people more than they expect."
For years GM was a connected-car leader thanks to OnStar, its imbedded telematics system launched in 1996 that offers push-button access to live operators, plus safety features such as crash notification. But GM was slow to incorporate technology to give users access to music, text messages and other content through their smartphones, falling behind Ford Motor Co., BMW AG and others.
Last fall GM launched its first full-fledged infotainment system, MyLink, four years after Ford's Sync system hit the market. In December, IntelliLink, for the Buick and GMC brands, was launched in the Buick Verano. It now is spreading across those lineups. CUE debuted on the Cadillac XTS in June.
In some ways, arriving late "has been an advantage for General Motors," says Thilo Koslowski, an automotive technology analyst at research firm Gartner Inc. As Ford stumbled with quality problems on its MyFord Touch system, he says, it has "allowed GM to learn from others' mistakes and focus on creating an intuitive, easy-to-use system."
GM still faces plenty of challenges. IntelliLink is a thinly veiled clone of Chevy MyLink, which squanders an opportunity to drive separation between the GMC and Chevy brands, analysts say.
GM is behind in the number of apps it has incorporated into its infotainment systems. MyLink offers three apps, compared with 12 available with MyFord Touch. Toyota brand's Entune system has five.
Eventually, GM must find a way to leverage the work it has done on CUE and spread innovation -- and costs -- across the other systems while allowing each to keep a distinct look and feel, Koslowski says.
Abram acknowledges that GM eventually will use some CUE features on the other brands' systems.
"I don't know how many of those elements of CUE will flow across the brands," he says. "Hopefully it will be a lot, because that will mean we've gotten it right."
Still, Abram vows that the systems will always be distinct "because the brands are distinct and they are speaking to different people."
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