DETROIT - General Motors expects to expand its OnStar in-vehicle communications system to non-GM vehicles within 12 months, said Chet Huber, managing director of GM's OnStar division.
GM is working out deals with Toyota Motor Corp. and other undisclosed automakers as it tries to boost OnStar subscriptions from 100,000 in 1999 to 1 million by the end of 2000. In the long term, GM wants 4 million OnStar subscribers by 2003.
'We're in discussion with GM on OnStar, but nothing final has been reached,' confirmed Mike Michels, spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.
Much of that subscription increase will come as GM makes OnStar standard equipment in much of its lineup. But Mark Hogan, who oversees OnStar and GM's Internet activities as president of its e-GM business unit, said OnStar needs to be an attractive option in vehicles made by other automakers to increase volume further and make OnStar more profitable.
OnStar uses a dedicated cellular phone line to connect subscribers to OnStar operators, who can handle emergencies, answer questions and arrange for con-cierge services. A satellite global positioning system allows OnStar operators to locate subscribers' vehicles and give them directions.
A base subscription for factory-installed OnStar costs $199 year. If installed at a dealership, it costs an additional $699.
By the end of this year, GM will increase OnStar's capabilities greatly by adding voice-activated Internet access and personal cellular phone service. GM has not said what consumers will pay for the advanced system.
For the 2000 model year, OnStar appears as a factory-installed option in 19 GM vehicles and as a dealer-installed option in 10 others. OnStar also is available in 2000 model Saab cars. GM owns Saab.
Huber said OnStar also is talking with GM-affiliated companies Suzuki Motor Corp., Isuzu Motors Ltd. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., owner of the Subaru brand. GM owns significant shares of each of those companies.
'We're absolutely talking with those as well as all of the OEMs,' Huber said.
But OnStar will make its biggest splash when it wins a contract with an automaker outside of GM. Huber expects that to happen within 12 months.
In recent months OnStar has made itself more attractive to other automakers by signing deals with Internet and communications companies such as General Magic Inc., Bell Atlantic Mobile and GTE Wireless. General Magic will provide the voice-activation technology for the next-generation OnStar; Bell Atlantic and GTE will provide the cellular network that will make OnStar one of the largest cellular phone providers in the country.
Additionally, OnStar is doubling its marketing budget in 2000 from a year ago with a new national advertising campaign featuring Batman. The Batman national TV ads, which do not mention GM, kick off this month.