General Motors will send OnStar to Silicon Valley to search for new technologies, partners and potential acquisitions.
In October, OnStar will open an office in Redwood Shores, Calif., to house its new advanced technology group. On-Star, a Troy, Mich., division of GM, will use the group to identify new communications products, such as voice-activated e-mail or a video navigation device, that can be coupled with the existing OnStar in-vehicle system.
The Redwood Shores office also will be a potential launching pad for partnerships between e-GM -GM's new electronic commerce group - and other e-commerce companies.
Formed this month and headed by Mark Hogan, e-GM now directs OnStar as well as GM's consumer Web sites and other e-commerce initiatives.
'We want to make sure we have the opportunity to deliver advanced technologies (to OnStar customers) as soon as possible,' said Dennis Walsh, OnStar's executive director of advanced technology development since March. Walsh, 52, will head the Redwood Shores office.
GM wants to boost subscriptions to the OnStar system from 75,000 currently to 1 million at the end of 2000 by making it standard on more of its vehicles and by adding new services.
The voice-based system connects a driver with an OnStar operator through a cellular phone line. OnStar operators can provide directions using global positioning satellites, assist drivers in emergencies or offer them concierge services.
The latest version of OnStar is standard on the Cadillac Escalade, and optional on 11 other GM vehicles. The installation cost is $695, plus $199 per year for a base service package or $399 per year for a premium service package.
During the 2001 model year, OnStar will add voice-activated Internet access in some vehicles.
The new office will put OnStar close to software and Internet giants, such as Sun Microsystems Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and Oracle Corp. Walsh, an information technology veteran, also has close ties to several companies. He sits on the advisory boards of Sun, IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Lotus Development Corp.
Hogan of e-GM also is on the lookout for technology partners. OnStar's new office will give him a set of eyes and ears in Silicon Valley as he pulls his fledgling group together.