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OnStar to tap Google to guide the Chevrolet Volt

Tue, 18 May 2010

General Motors Co.'s OnStar telematics unit is bringing Google mobile navigation technology into the car.

Chevrolet Volt drivers whose smartphones use Google's Android operating system will be able to use their phones to pinpoint their vehicle's location on Google Maps, GM said in a statement released Tuesday. They can then request a destination by speaking it into the phone, and have the desired destination sent directly to the car.

OnStar would then guide the driver to the destination using turn-by-turn spoken directions.

OnStar will demonstrate the technology at an Android software developer's conference that starts Wednesday in San Francisco.

The new feature builds on a Volt smartphone application that OnStar announced in January. The previously announced application offers mobile control of battery charging, remote locking and unlocking of doors, and other features.

The application will be available when the Volt plug-in hybrid launches in the fall. It works on the Motorola Droid, which is an Android phone, as well as on Blackberry Storm and the Apple iPhone. The new navigation “tab” will debut later and is only for Android phones.

Industry observers believe GM will extend the smartphone functions beyond the Volt.

Roger Lanctot, senior analyst with the research firm Strategy Analytics, called the development a daring, but revolutionary move for OnStar. He said GM's objective is to eventually allow third-party applications to run on OnStar.

“Smart phone integration puts embedded navigation at risk and potentially wipes out the ‘personal minutes' business model,” Lanctot wrote in an e-mail, referring to OnStar's built-in cellular telephone.

“OnStar is moving quickly to shift to a new architecture and all indications are that this future platform will incorporate Android in some fashion,” Lanctot wrote. “No doubt, Google is interested in seeing OnStar incorporate Google Search in the OnStar platform. But most of what Google has to offer will require new architecture from OnStar.”

Thilo Koslowski, an analyst for technology research firm Gartner Inc., said the announcement is a first step for OnStar to rejuvenate its brand.

Said Koslowski: "OnStar's pioneer status was at risk of becoming stale and the company is doing what is necessary to create the foundation for future success: connecting the car to the outside and by doing so creating the ultimate mobile device."

He predicted more mobile innovation will follow.

By Leslie J. Allen- Automotive News