DaimlerChrysler is poised to wriggle deeper into its customers' lives.
With a $100 million investment last week in Sirius Satellite Radio Inc., the automaker soon will be able to track consumers' listening patterns coast to coast.
Data gathered from those satellite radio listeners will supplement an already rich hoard of information DaimlerChrysler has compiled about its customers, said Steven Torok, DaimlerChrysler's vice president of sales and marketing operations.
The automaker will install satellite radio receivers in all of its North American brands, starting with Freightliner and Sterling heavy trucks and Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicles at the end of 2001, Torok said.
The receivers will be available as aftermarket products in Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep dealerships in 2002, Torok said, adding that consumer interest in the service is bound to snowball.
'It's going from a curiosity to a `Gee, I'd like to have it' kind of technology,' he said.
DaimlerChrysler is the second automaker to buy a stake in Sirius. Ford Motor Co. bought $20 million worth of stock in June 1999 and will offer receivers in all of its North American brands starting early in 2001. BMW (US) Holding Corp. last month said it will install receivers in BMW and Land Rover vehicles starting in 2001.
The other licensed provider, XM Satellite Radio, counts General Motors as its only automotive customer. GM owns a $50 million stake in XM and GM's Hughes Electronics Corp. also bought a $50 million stake in the company. Satellite radio can be used to beam maintenance reminders, minor engine updates and vehicle unlock codes to a customer's vehicle, Torok said.
'What you can do in your car is virtually unlimited in theory,' Torok said.
But satellite radio is probably not the best way to do such things as send and receive e-mail, Torok said. A cellular telephone system, like the OnStar system GM uses, is more effective for two-way communications such as Internet and navigation systems.
With satellite radio, 'we can (communicate with) each individual vehicle, but we can't (communicate with) a million vehicles at once, individually,' Torok said.
According to documents filed by Sirius with the Securities and Exchange Commission, DaimlerChrysler will continue to invest in Sirius. After Sirius receivers are installed in 4 million DaimlerChrysler vehicles, DaimlerChrysler will be able to buy $240 million worth of stock.
Sirius formerly was known as CD Radio. The name Sirius was chosen because it is the name of the brightest star in the sky, said David Margolese, the company's chairman. And while Sirius is also known as the dog star, Margolese is not worried about being known as a dog of a company.
Said Margolese: 'The RCA dog did very well for a long time, and with the Taco Bell dog out there, our testing shows people love it.'