General Motors’ effort to turn its cars into mobile hubs may give consumers easier access to applications and services that call for high-speed cellular or data connections.
GM will equip more than 30 models with fourth-generation Wi-Fi [4G LTE] hot spots by year’s end, allowing consumers to connect up to seven mobile devices at once and to remain connected up to 50 feet away from the vehicle. The move shows how connected-car interest is driving automakers to introduce the new technology into more and more models.
“At CES [Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas] when we made the announcement we said unequivocally and it still stands that it is the biggest, it is the broadest and the largest deployment anywhere [of car connectivity] in the world by any auto brand,” said John McFarland, senior manager of global strategic marketing and infotainment with Detroit-based GM.
“And that’s going to stand for quite some time. And so you’ll see the competitive landscape get more competitive. I firmly believe General Motors is taking the right long view on this.”
In an interview with Mobile Marketer, Mr. McFarland discussed how mobile fits into the largest United States automaker’s plans and how it is helping its vehicle brands drive customer engagement.
How is GM using connected car technology to market the brand?
General Motors is very focused on connected technology. It’s a way to make the overall ownership and driving experience for cars better. And we believe we’re differentiated from our competitors.
If you look back 18 years ago when we launched OnStar [a help-summoning system for motorists in trouble], which was very much an industry first at the time, it’s a brand that was built on providing safety and security solutions for our consumers. But the backbone of that was and still is very much connectivity and connected vehicles.
So even 18 years ago we had what you could call a connected car.
Today, the way that we are using that connectivity platform has changed dramatically.
With 4G LTE, you can get a sense of how committed and how much we believe in this. We believe a connected car has the opportunity to make the ownership and driving experience better.
Web marketing material for OnStar with 4G LTE.
In addition, we have services like RemoteLink. What it enables you to do is to interact with your car when you’re not in it. The ability to lock, unlock, start, turn off the engine in my car when I walk to it before I get there, using my smartphone, is something that our customers love.
In fact, on cold days, as you can imagine, we get over 100,000 hits a day from people interacting with our vehicle through their smartphone. It’s really exciting, the capability we have. A first step for how we can redefine what you’re able to do with your vehicle through connectivity.
To what extent is GM’s effort to market itself tied to allowing businesses to create applications?
From a marketing standpoint, we view the connected technology as something that is unique to us.
You’re going to see 4G LTE as a key selling point in a lot of the advertising from OnStar, from Chevrolet, from our other brands. They’re going to be highlighting the marketing aspect around 4G LTE and all the things it can do with your connected vehicles.
We believe that it's something that can build the brand and help reinforce what we’re trying to do as a company. And we think customers are going to be very excited about everything we know. We know this is a potential game-changer for us.
So you’re going to see a very heavy marketing push.
As it relates to app development and other pieces like that, we’re focused on a couple of things.
One, our staying very core and close in with the driver/ownership experience. So you’re going to see us as a company take advantage of that connectivity and then develop on that platform first.
You’re going to see us continue to drive our services and benefits through our RemoteLink mobile application which is a key point that we use in our marketing campaigns.
What we’re not going to be doing out of the gate is opening up to a lot of outside developers to develop on the car platform. It’s something we could consider doing in the future and earlier in the year we had some prototypes, but we’re not launching them right now.
We’re focused on getting the connected cars launched, getting the best overall ownership and driving experience for our customers that we can provide. And then we’ll re-evaluate in the future how we open that up.
How important to the mobile consumer is GM’s in-vehicle hot spot, which can connect up to seven devices that use Wi-Fi?
It’s very important. It varies on who the specific consumer is and which vehicle segment they’re in. But we know that family vehicles, SUVs, any type of consumer that has people within the car quite often, it’s something that really resonates, it gets them really excited. It also gets the passengers really excited, as well.
We hear stories of kids literally having meltdowns in the driveway because they have to take Mom’s car that doesn’t have the 4G hot spot in it versus Dad’s car that does, if they can’t connect their tablets and devices.
In-vehicle hot spot has 50-foot radius.
We know the majority – a number well over 70 percent – of tablets that are sold out there have a built-in connection. And they need a Wi-Fi hot spot. So we’re able to deliver that to our customers through our vehicle.
Specifically, you think about trucks. You think about big SUVs. And then you think about anyone who uses their vehicles in their job.
Having [in-car] connectivity and then to actually get out of your vehicle and be able to set it up on a mobile workspace so you can have your other colleagues use it as well, is very powerful.
We think it is going to transform the way a lot of our customers use their vehicles. On the job site, on the work site.
For their business outings. That 50-foot radius is a number. The litmus test is if I’m a foreman on a site and I take my laptop out and set it up on a mobile base outside of my truck and get work done. When they can do that through this technology, it’s something that transforms the way they work.
Are mainstream consumers going to want to pay for that 4G LTE connection on top of their smartphone service?
We’re making a market here. The core part of our strategy was ensuring that what we’re doing is accessible to consumers. Part of accessibility is availability. That’s why you see that [the 4G LTE hotspot] is standard on vehicles all the way from the Chevrolet Spark up to a Corvette over to Cadillac. So it’s a broad range.
This is something that’s going to be standard on most of our vehicles, not an option not an upsell, not an luxury item, but available to somebody who’s getting their very first car, up to a high-performance car. It’s included in the price of the car.
There are some core features and benefits that a connected car can deliver that’s going to make ownership so much better that we’re willing to invest behind them. And as a result we’re actually creating for the first time the OnStar Basic plan with the purchase of your vehicle.
We will only keep the car connected if customers say they want that. We also know a car is another device that needs to be added to their monthly bill. We’re offering data plans that start as low as $5 a month.
Michael Barris is staff reporter with Mobile Marketer, New York.