GM's OnStar To Launch Mobile 'Keys' App

OnStar

General Motors' OnStar telematics division is launching a portfolio of mobile applications for GM's four brands. The company will make brand-specific apps for Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac that obviate the need for car keys. The apps will allow owners to do remotely -- and from just about any distance -- the kinds of things you need a key fob and proximity to perform. The apps will allow GM vehicle owners to remote-start, operate horn and lights, and lock or unlock doors from smartphones.

General Motors says the new apps will also use OnStar's diagnostics to send mobile links to things like fuel tank level and range, remaining oil life, current and recommended tire pressure and lifetime average miles per gallon, current to the last vehicle start. The company is also offering mobile versions of the live-response assistance the OnStar platform was built upon: in addition to pushing a button in the car, usually mounted on the rear-view mirror, they can do a one-button dial to a 24/7 OnStar advisor, per the company.

The apps will be available for 2011 Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC vehicles and work on the iPhone and Android systems. The company will also begin marketing the apps by brand-specific marketing messaging for Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC.

"We're working aggressively to bring the Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC applications to market as soon as possible," says Joel Ewanick, VP, GM Marketing, in a statement. "Because we know that each brand's customers have different tastes, wants and needs, the apps will be very specifically tailored to offer them the services they value most, leveraging these innovative OnStar features as a compelling mutual foundation."

The new apps extend company-wide the first such application launched for the Chevrolet Volt at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show this year. That product will let Volt owners do remote diagnostics on things like battery charge.

The OnStar mobile app for the rest of GM vehicles lets someone who might have forgotten to lock his or her car log into the Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick or GMC app, enter the car's PIN and send a remote lock signal to his or her vehicle. The app also allows a person to remotely start the vehicle from anywhere (though the door would still be locked so someone couldn't presumably drive away with it.)

An OnStar spokesperson says that although OnStar has historically focused its marketing message on the option as a safety and security tool, the division is hoping the apps will expand the platform's utility beyond safety. "Basically, we will leverage it with our GM brand partners at the divisions," she says. "Each brand will bring an app to its customers, and each brand will announce specific features."

The apps will be free downloads from either the Android Marketplace or, for iPhone, the iTunes store. The spokesperson adds that the company will continue to do its own marketing -- which has traditionally been radio-heavy with creative centered on real customers talking about how OnStar helped them, or saved them or others from accidents. But she adds that OnStar will also do marketing with GM divisions to promote the apps. "We are starting to shift how we think about OnStar, and go to market with it. We are trying to get customers comfortable with the idea that the blue button is not just for emergencies."

OnStar, which has about 5.5 million subscribers, is offered for free for six months to a year with purchase of a new GM vehicle, and must be supported via subscription hereafter.

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