GM warns '15 Corvette owners that 'valet mode' may be illegal
Software update coming next month, dealers told
DETROIT -- An “industry exclusive” feature that General Motors touted to buyers of the new Chevrolet Corvette Stingray could inadvertently get owners in trouble with the law in some states.
A bulletin GM sent to dealers this week says they should tell customers not to use the “valet mode” of the car’s performance data recorder until the software is updated.
The update, expected to be available “early next month,” is necessary to ensure customers use the feature “consistent with legal requirements that pertain to audio recording devices,” the bulletin said.
The problem relates to laws in 12 states, including California and Michigan, that ban audio recording of private conversations unless all involved parties provide their consent. In some of the states, people who make unauthorized recordings can be charged with a felony.
The valet mode, which GM trumpeted as “a baby monitor for your baby” in an August news release, allows owners to record audio, video and vehicle data when turning over the keys to a parking attendant. The data recorder was primarily intended to let drivers track the capability of their vehicles. The announcement attracted national attention, with CBS News and The New York Times noting the Corvette owners would be safe from the sorts of unscrupulous valets depicted in the 1986 film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
“Anyone who has felt apprehension about handing over their keys will appreciate the peace of mind of knowing exactly what happened while their baby was out of sight,” Harlan Charles, Corvette product manager, said in GM’s August release. The system also allows drivers to lock the car’s interior storage and disable the infotainment system.
The bulletin was posted Thursday on CorvetteForum.com.
“The concept as Chevy designed it was pretty ingenious,” said Brent Baker, Corvette manager at Bill Stasek Chevrolet in Wheeling, Ill., one of the largest Corvette dealers in the country. “Everyone’s pretty excited about it, but I’m sure someone somewhere said, ‘Hey, have you thought about this?’ I know they’d rather be safe than sorry.”
GM spokesman Monte Doran confirmed that Chevrolet would be issuing an update to avoid potential legal issues.
“The vehicle does not currently provide notice to vehicle occupants that they are being recorded,” Doran said in an email. “In the near future, we will be making a software update available to remedy this issue. A number of alternatives are under consideration.”
CorvetteBlogger.com also posted an image of a letter being sent to customers who already have a Corvette with the valet-mode capability.
The letter, signed by GM’s senior vice president for global quality and customer experience, Alicia Boler-Davis, says customers should “refrain from using the valet mode feature until the update takes place” or, alternatively, “notify any occupants of the vehicle that they will be recorded while in the vehicle” and “obtain their consent.”
It’s unclear whether the update will address legal concerns by removing the capability to record audio inside the vehicle, with a message warning that the car is recording or through some other method.
The performance data recorder and valet mode are part of a navigation package that retails for $1,795.
Some 2015 Corvettes are subject to stop-delivery orders related to issues with the airbags and rear parking-brake cables. Bulletins sent to dealers earlier this month say recalls for the two defects are forthcoming, but neither has been announced publicly yet. In the meantime, GM said it was holding many Corvettes at its plant in Bowling Green, Ky., until repair parts for the airbag recall are available.
Baker said his dealership was quickly able to fix all of the Corvettes affected by the parking-brake problem and that only a small proportion of its inventory is awaiting parts for the airbag repair. Overall, the stop-delivery orders have not hurt sales, he said.
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