GM's Lost and Found Data Opportunities with OnStar

November 20, 2014
By: Doug Mohney

General Motors (News - Alert) (GM) pioneered telematics with the introduction of its OnStar service. Via an opt-in and for-pay service, GM provides a monthly vehicle diagnostics report with dealer maintenance notifications. If you are in trouble, customers can run on-demand diagnostics in real-time and provide life safety services in case of a crash. Auto manufacturers need to offer discounts or even give away services for free because of the Big Data and goodwill benefits involved.

For a simple "Safe & Sound" package, GM collects $19.95 per month or $199 per year. But what if GM cut that price in exchange for collecting data on a more regular basis, possibly by leveraging a combination of OnStar's cellular linkages and in-home WiFi (News - Alert) connectivity? GM could minimize its cellular bills by passing standard reports through the household wireless network, leaving cellular for emergencies.

To be sure, GM already gets a view into the inner workings of its vehicles from people who choose to pay for OnStar benefits, such as emergency services, roadside assistance, and remote vehicle unlock. The monthly vehicle diagnostic package is nice enough and provides a decent cross-sectional sample, but it begs the question as to what insights could be gained from a fleet-wide collection of data.  Could it give GM a quicker heads-up on what items might go wrong with older model cars?

Interestingly enough, GM is now providing its OnStar Basic plan for five years from the date of delivery of new U.S. 2015 model year vehicles. Buy a new GM car and you get both vehicle diagnostics and dealer maintenance notifications for five years. Both give GM and its dealers an advantage. The auto manufacturer gets monthly performance data across its 2015 models for five years, so it can run Big Data Analytics (BDA) to spot potential problems and help keep dealers proactively stocked up on parts while dealers can send out notifications for preventive service to avoid a side-of-the-road breakdown.

GM executives say OnStar will be able to provide "predictive failure" notifications for systems. If brakes, steering, engine or other system look out of spec as compared to the bigger fleet, a notice will pop up onboard your car to get it looked at before there's a breakdown. 

This is a great feature for 2015 and beyond GM car owners. If it works out as predicted, there will be a lot of happy (or at least less agitated) people that spend more time on the road, rather than sitting at the side of the road awaiting a tow truck. 

My only OnStar wish is GE would also provide the airbag deployment emergency service notification for free.  It would be a goodwill measure and likely save lives over the course of a year. OnStar commercials emphasized how fast and speedy the service is. In my mind, the best commercial GM could provide for its customers is a commitment to keeping all of them alive—not just those whose who cough up $20 a month.  After all, a dead customer won't get a new car while a live one will be much more likely to get another GM vehicle. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle