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OnStar, Garmin Try to Keep Pace With Waze, Other Free Navigation Apps

OnStar and Garmin confront a market full of free mapping apps
OnStar, Garmin Try to Keep Pace With Waze, Other Free Navigation Apps
Illustration by 731

When Tim Nixon’s sons want to figure out how to get somewhere in their cars, they turn their iPhones sideways, attach them to their windshields with a suction cup, and turn on a free downloadable mapping app. For their father, that’s a sign that he has a problem. As chief technology officer of General Motors’ OnStar service, he sells dashboard navigational systems for $1,500 or more. “We’ve historically had these onboard, embedded nav systems,” he says. “That’s just not going to cut it anymore.”

Since the U.S. government made an accurate GPS signal available to civilians in 2000, navigation system makers such as OnStar, Garmin, and TomTom have enjoyed tremendous success. One in four U.S. cars now comes with a navigation system, according to consultant IHS Automotive, which estimates that global installations will hit 13.8 million this year. By bundling them with expensive options such as leather seats, sunroofs, and high-end audio systems, automakers charge from $500 to more than $2,000 for navigation systems.