Connectivity: Not just for emergencies anymore
Hard to believe, but that useful and, at the time, revolutionary, piece of technology called OnStar was introduced by General Motors back in 1996 as a way to stay connected with vehicles and drivers by providing assistance when needed—especially during accidents and other emergencies. OnStar is now commonplace on every GM vehicle in North America and in a few other places worldwide.
The technology behind OnStar is called telematics. It is a mix of satellite and mobile technologies to connect to your vehicle remotely for vehicle diagnostics, theft tracking, accident reporting and to assist in navigation. In other words, it is a “friend” in need when you truly need one. OnStar uses these technologies and backs them up with call centers to add that reassuring voice after an emergency or when you are lost.
These days, OnStar is not the only game in town. GM is now joined by similar telematics suites offered by other manufacturers. Ford’s Sync, BMW’s Assist, Hyundai’s BlueLink, Volkswagen’s CarNet and Mbrace by Mercedes-Benz all use similar technologies to connect with vehicles. BMW Assist is a part of Connected Drive, BMW’s in-car infotainment system. Connected Drive offers concierge-type services on top of the emergency and diagnostic offerings from BMW Assist. BlueLink, Car-Net and Mbrace offer a more extensive connection service up to the level of OnStar’s own offerings.
Other manufacturers provide a similar service, but with only some essentials. For example, Toyota and Lexus offer Safety Connect on most of their vehicles. When enabled, Toyota and Lexus connect you to provide emergency services, accident reporting and theft tracking, along with connecting to roadside assistance. Lexus adds the Enform suite for navigation and concierge services. The drawback is there is no automated connection to the vehicle, unless the owner presses the SOS button on the headliner.
Having competition for connected services is a good thing for consumers looking for peace of mind with their vehicles. However, OnStar has grown beyond offering its core services. GM now uses the OnStar brand to incorporate a 4G LTE hotspot now offered on most 2015 GM models. Services, such as OnStar, use cellular connections to transmit between the vehicle, the satellite and servers. This will allow multiple devices to connect within the vehicle, while the essential connection is maintained.
All of these services have one thing in common: They are offered via subscription. Subscriptions can either be billed separately on a monthly basis or paid in advance for a certain term as part of the vehicle purchase. It’s always good to find out what you’re getting when signing up for the service as you are buying your next vehicle. Also, find out if an existing used car equipped with any of these services could be activated for you.
When you log onto CarSoup.com, you can search for OnStar under the Features search. If you are searching by make and model, the listing should indicate whether these connection services are available in that specific vehicle.