GM Turning Its Cars Into Rolling (Local) Search Engines

GM Connected Car

For a long time in-car concierge services such as GM’s OnStar were a “nice to have” but not mainstream. That’s largely because the value of the services was outweighed by the cost for most people. But now, with the relatively recent addition of LTE, they’re poised for broader adoption.

All the major car makers are adding connectivity to their cars at varying rates. And yesterday, ahead of CES in Las Vegas, GM announced a range of new OnStar 4G LTE services. These include maintenance alerts, driver assessment (for improved driving or better insurance rates) and “AtYourService.”

This latter service is the one relevant to publishers and marketers. According to GM:

AtYourService will roll out in the U.S. and Canada, where OnStar annually receives more than 35 million requests for directions and supports more than 53 million mobile app interactions. Building on these direct connections and adding more daily relevance for subscribers, OnStar has signed initial relationships with partners like Dunkin’ Donuts and Priceline.com.

Digital coupon providers RetailMeNot and Entertainment Book will supply retail and shopping coupons. Parkopedia will serve data for parking nationwide, and Audiobooks.com will supply e-book content to drivers on the road. When a driver requests directions to a point of interest that has an applicable deal or connection to one of its partners, the OnStar advisor can send the special offer from that merchant.

Also beginning in early 2015, active subscribers with the full-service plan will be able to book a hotel through an OnStar advisor. Partnering with Priceline.com, OnStar advisors can provide information on availability, cost, amenities, and ratings, then book a hotel reservation and send directions to the vehicle.

Subscribers can give advisors the general location where they would like to stay and advisors can select from Priceline’s participating hotels in that area. After booking a hotel, customers receive an email confirmation of their reservation. The service provides a simple way to find on-the-go accommodations while drivers keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. In a pilot program, nine out of 10 subscribers said they would book their last-minute hotel needs through OnStar again.

OnStar seeks to hook and retain people with its mobile hotspot – subscriptions start at $20 per month — and then become a channel to reach in-car shoppers and travelers. Accordingly OnStar now becomes a push and pull platform (especially local search) for consumers.

Broadly speaking for these in-car platforms, the model will be important. If it’s mostly search-based and what I would call “smart push,” consumers will be more accepting than if there are numerous, unsolicited display ads.

Indeed, the user experience will matter in the car. If it’s not good or otherwise stronger than your smartphone (or tablet) consumers will simply use the in-car connectivity and their existing devices and shun the in-dash tools and/or concierge experience.

There’s also the annoying issue of paying yet another fee for internet connectivity. But many people will likely opt to do so to have WiFi in the car.

OnStar is currently available in 30 GM models. These new services will be rolling out in Q1. Other car makers, as well as Apple and Google, also have major connected-car initiatives.

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