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OnStar is not for sale, new features are being explored, executive says

Tue, 08 Sep 2009 00:00:00 -0700

OnStar is not for sale, and General Motors Co. is working to fine-tune the well-known service and position it for the future, a top executive said on Tuesday.

Despite the recent jettisoning of several GM brands, OnStar is safe and officials are optimistic as it prepares to expand in December with a launch in China.

“At this point, OnStar is firmly a part of the new GM and is an integral part of GM's future strategy,” said Chet Huber, the outgoing president of OnStar.

Huber has led the unit since it started in 1995. He's retiring on Oct. 1 and will be replaced by Walt Dorfstatter. The two executives played host to a Web chat for the media and the public on Tuesday morning.

OnStar is profitable and has 5.5 million subscribers. It recently recorded its 500th patent and still files for patents at a clip of one every six days. New features under consideration include a form of text messaging and a traffic addition (though XM traffic is available in many GM vehicles).

OnStar also recently added an engine-block disabling feature, which stops thieves from starting a car that has been reported stolen.

“Innovation is at the core of OnStar, just not the dancing hologram type of innovation that some companies try to use as eye candy instead of substance,” Huber said.

OnStar could show up on cars from other companies in some form, Huber said. It previously had relationships with Volkswagen, Audi, Subaru, Lexus, Acura and Isuzu, though those have ended. The GM exec also said it's unlikely that the system would expand to an interface like the iPhone for nondriving uses.

The OnStar leaders' wide-ranging chat also addressed usability issues. One Chevrolet Corvette owner complained about lousy hands-free cell phone transmission in his car, and another owner noted that OnStar's calling minutes seem expensive compared with the industry norm. The execs said they're working on the issues.

By Greg Migliore