GM's OnStar Said to Offer Free Services in Challenge to Ford

General Motors Co.’s OnStar in-car communications unit may offer some free services next year to rival Ford Motor Co.’s Sync music and information system, two people familiar with the plans said.

OnStar, a subscription service that provides accident alerts, directions and vehicle diagnostics, is scheduled to introduce an upgraded system this month that translates voice messages to text, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the details aren’t public. Subscribers may be able to use voice commands to update the social media site Facebook, OnStar said today in an e-mail.

In-car technology features attract tech-savvy consumers and allow carmakers to charge more for smaller, cheaper models, said Brandy Schaffels, an analyst at TrueCar.com. GM, the largest U.S. automaker, is adding features to keep pace with systems including Ford’s Sync.

“When Ford came out with Sync, they met OnStar’s services and upped the ante,” Schaffels, content manager at the Santa Monica, California-based researcher, said in an interview. “Technological features are where GM and Ford are going to found their reputation with the next generation.”

OnStar may begin offering entertainment and information services that link to a user’s smartphone without a subscription or fee, said one of the people. OnStar is now offered free in many models for the first year and then for $199 to $299 a year, depending on the features.

Photographer: Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg

Signage promoting General Motors Corp.'s OnStar service sits on display at Cauley Chevrolet in West Bloomfield, Michigan. Close

Signage promoting General Motors Corp.'s OnStar service sits on display at Cauley... Read More

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Photographer: Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg

Signage promoting General Motors Corp.'s OnStar service sits on display at Cauley Chevrolet in West Bloomfield, Michigan.

Facebook Link

The Facebook technology may allow users to verbally update their status message and listen to their most recent “news feed” messages, Elizabeth Robbins, an OnStar spokeswoman, said today in an e-mail.

OnStar also is testing technology that will allow users to have their text messages read to them and reply to messages using four preset replies, Robbins said.

The voice-to-text system will be studied with a test audience while the company decides whether to offer it to all customers, the person said. The new version of OnStar will have enhanced services for emergency response, which alerts an OnStar operator when there is a vehicle crash, the person said.

OnStar will unveil a new advertising theme with the tagline “Live On,” while individual services will have their own themes, such as “Always On” to promote accident alerts, the people said.

Outside Cars

The unit also is studying ways to use OnStar outside of the car, where immediate contact with an operator or access to other services such as safety or security might be useful, said the people, who declined to give specifics.

OnStar, available on more than 40 vehicles from GM’s 2011 model year, has about 5.7 million subscribers, according to a regulatory filing from Detroit-based GM. OnStar and Google Inc. said in June they would partner to offer eNav, a turn-by-turn navigation feature that allows drivers to send Google Maps destinations to their vehicle.

Ford has been selling Sync, based on Microsoft Corp.’s in- car, voice-activated technology, since the 2008 model year, Alan Hall, a Ford spokesman, said in a telephone interview. The Dearborn, Michigan-based company added features such as touch- command controls and voice-activated climate control this year.

The technology, available as a $395 option on some models, helps make cars more profitable and is included standard on higher-end vehicles.

Ford said in January it plans to bring social networking, Web browsing and thumb controls similar to those on Apple Inc.’s iPod into 80 percent of its models by 2015.

To contact the reporters on this story: Craig Trudell in New York at ctrudell1@bloomberg.net; Jeff Green in Southfield, Michigan at jgreen16@bloomberg.net.

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