Turning Dashboards Into Web Portals

Millions of people waste hours each day in cars. That's why General Motors is driving hard to turn dashboards into full-fledged Web portals that can offer motorists nifty new services via satellite. GM scored a coup when it became the first carmaker to connect dashboards to the Web via satellite, offering safety and navigation services. Now, its OnStar unit is set to introduce a Web product called Virtual Advisor in 32 models this fall. By speaking commands, the service will read motorists their e-mail, news, and stock prices.

For now, OnStar gives new-car buyers free services the first year, hoping they'll later spring for $199 to $399 a year for safety, navigation, and concierge offerings, like arranging hotel rooms. OnStar's revenue should reach $925 million in 2002, when it could hit 3 million subscribers, estimates Merrill Lynch & Co. analyst John Casesa. Says e-GM President Mark T. Hogan: "As we get to 3 million to 4 million subscribers, the profit picture looks really good." But with rivals like Ford Motor Corp. hot on its tail, offering similar services in luxury cars, GM will have to keep its Web innovation engine revved.