General Motors will soon launch a new, more powerful version of its famed OnStar mobile service. The move could take OnStar beyond the car and maybe even beyond GM itself, a GM executive has told CNNMoney.com.
“We’re aggressively working right now to see how we can extend the OnStar business even beyond automotive,” said Chris Preuss, who was recently named head of the OnStar brand after running GM’s public relations.
An announcement about the changes is expected this summer.
The version of OnStar that will be offered with the Chevrolet Volt electric car offers a glimpse at some of the features that could be available on the new OnStar, Preuss said.
This year’s OnStar relaunch involves a major technology push inside GM as well a partnership with a major outside technology company, said Preuss, who declined to reveal who GM’s partner is or exactly what they’re doing.
“There are still a few things we want to keep under our hats,” he said.
OnStar is a factor in at least two-thirds of customers’ decisions to buy a GM product, Preuss said, and with 5.5 million paid subscribers it’s an important source of income as well.
All the services OnStar now offers will remain in effect, Preuss promised, as will the live human operators, a feature that OnStar says is critical to its brand identity.
Another thing that will not change, Preuss promises, is a central focus on safety.
“We’re not going to violate that safety and security tenet that’s a core of our brand,” he said.
In other words, entertainment is secondary, Preuss said, and GM is going to look very closely at any technology that might become a distraction behind the wheel.
OnStar currently offers its services free for one year on most GM models, and then at subscription price of about $20 to $30 a month, depending on the level of service, or $200 to $300 a year. Even at those prices, though, Preuss said, more than half of GM owners elect to pay for the service after that first year.
While Preuss refuses to discuss possible changes to OnStar’s pricing, there could be ways to defray some costs, he said.
“Would people be willing to not pay an OnStar subscription if they could have advertiser supported directions?” he said.