"There's a lot more we're looking into in remote diagnostics," says Mike Batchik, special vehicles manager for OnStar.
"We have to figure out what dealerships can do in working with us, and what's the value to the customer to enhance OnStar in this way."
Still, there is one robust market for remote diagnostics. It's fleet-vehicle management.
Systems monitor a company's trucks, vans and cars for how they're performing on important expense components, such as fuel economy, and parameters that regulators are concerned about such as emissions. Usually, the systems are combined with capabilities and software that help fleet owners determine whether their assets are being abused - for example, by employees who may make personal use of company vehicles.
"Telematics has found a real sweet spot in this area," says David Dutch, president of Networkcar Inc., a subsidiary of Reynolds and Reynolds Co. (reyrey.com).
For about $500 and monthly fees of $17.95 or more for fleet vehicles, dealers can install a Networkcar module under a vehicle's hood. Nonfleet customers pay $795 and $9 a month.
JM Lexus in Margate, Fla., has been installing the Networkcar device on some vehicles it sells.
As Networkcar's Dutch explains: "You get idle time, speed, miles per gallon, trouble codes and normal maintenance information. It's a lot of mundane stuff that helps fleets manage their people and their money."
Sophisticated remote diagnostics also can help fleet owners avoid costly vehicle breakdowns by funneling in data that normally wouldn't trip engine trouble codes, says Jack Rozint, general manager of fleet-management solutions for Vetronix Corp. (vetronix.com). The company is the diagnostics subsidiary of Robert Bosch GmbH.
"Breakdowns can be extremely costly to vehicles," he says. "And remote diagnostics can help prevent them."
Dale Buss is a Detroit-area freelance writer. You may e-mail him at