"We are building on our 20-year lead with OnStar," GM CEO Mary Barra said on the company's earnings call with analysts last week. Barra said GM expects to have 12 million OnStar-connected customers by the end of December.
OnStar Go will be available in more than 2 million vehicles by the end of next year, GM said. The service itself is free, but users need a data plan through their vehicle's built-in 4G LTE modem.
GM and IBM said the "cognitive mobility platform" will use machine learning technology, data analysis and partnerships with brands such as ExxonMobil and MasterCard to make drivers more efficient.
"We are truly trying to reinvent time for drivers," Joanna Pena-Bickley, global chief creative officer for IBM Interactive Experience, told Automotive News. "The moment that we get into our car, there is this sense of feeling disconnection, and this is really meant to reconnect drivers and passengers to the people and places they love most."
The service will not be a means of pushing ads to consumers' vehicles, said Mark Lloyd, GM's consumer online officer.
"You can select which brands that you want to connect with," Lloyd said. "It's very much opt-in."
GM, which several years ago began offering a basic level of OnStar connectivity for free rather than requiring a paid subscription from all users, says use of the network is increasing rapidly. It already has logged more than 150 million customer interactions to date this year, compared with 135 million in all of 2015, Barra said.
Other automakers are taking similar steps. Ford Motor Co. last spring launched an app called FordPass that includes access to live guides, much like the traditional OnStar service offers.
Both FordPass and OnStar Go count Parkopedia, which helps drivers find and pay for parking, among their initial group of partners. OnStar Go, which also has signed on Glympse and iHeartRadio for its launch, aims to set itself apart with Watson's ability to predict drivers' behavior based on previous actions.
"Everyone's looking for that small advantage on Apple or Google," said Colin Bird, an analyst with IHS Markit who follows software, apps and services. "What it is unique about this system is its predictive component."
Bird said the success of the service will depend on GM's ability to attract partners and offer a wide variety of apps so that consumers don't default to using their smartphone instead. OnStar Go, in addition to having the hardware and data connection built into GM vehicles, has the advantage of being able to analyze vehicle diagnostic information, which Android Auto and Apple CarPlay can't access.