connected cars

The Surprising Reasons Why Automakers Are Equipping Cars with WiFi

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connected cars

GM and other car companies are putting high-speed data transfer capability in your car.  It’s not just for watching Frozen anymore.

BestRide staff and NEMPA members recently had the chance to hear a talk from John McFarland, Director, Connected Customer Experience, General Motors Company, who revealed the real reasons GM and others are high-speed internet connectivity into your car.  Yes, GM plans to tap your monthly budget so your kids can watch Frozen a thousand times on Netflix in your back-seat at very high cost to you.  That we knew.  What wasn’t so obvious is the value that high-speed data communication system would provide to GM, and then back to you, the consumer.  GM and others will soon be collecting all manner of data from your vehicle in real-time.  A short list includes:

– Your driving style and habits

– The health of your vehicle’s key systems such as the battery, engine, and tires

– The status of your vehicle (safe, crashed, stolen, lost in a parking lot etc.)

If this all seems somehow sinister, let’s look at the benefits first.  Imagine you are home and just before bed your child forgets their snuggly is in the car.  They go out and get it, but they leave on all the inside lights and then only partially shut the door.  A count down has now started.  How long will it be until that vehicle has a dead battery?  GM will send you a text and let you know the lights are on, so you can take action before you find yourself in need of a jump start.

The same scenario is true of flat tires.  Sure TPMS will tell you if you have a flat, but what if you got the puncture as you pulled into your office parking lot.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have OnStar call and offer to have that changed for you before your work-day ends rather than coming out after a hard day to find the flat?

Since the system knows where your car is at all times by using the GPS functions of the cell-phone-like connection, if the vehicle is not where you expect it to be, OnStar can tell you immediately where it is and what it is doing.  Helpful in all manner of situations from “I’m at the mall, where is my car?” to “I think someone drove off in my car!”

Have you seen the commercials from Progressive and other insurance companies that offer to monitor your (good) driving and give you a discount?  Were you worried that your driving night not qualify, and worse, that you might end up on a list of “Bad drivers to not insure?”  Worry not.  GM can now collect that data and show the results only to you along with a summary for your insurance company in terms they will understand.  Then, if it looks good, you could offer it up to your insurance company and say “gimme that discount.”  If it isn’t so great, you delete it and continue to enjoy having your neighbors pay for the bad results of your smokey burnouts and bonsai drifts on the way home from the ‘packy.

GM could look at your commute in real-time and compare it other options you had, but that you chose not to take.  The program might do some averaging and tell you that if you had gone the other way last week you would have saved, say 5 minutes on the ride home, and $4.00 on fuel.  The system knows your commute, and it knows where the hills , traffic jams, and traffic light are.  The system might also suggest you use your cruise control more and tell you how much might save in gas if you do, tailored to your particular driving routes.

Don’t be too surprised if you are circling a city block sometime soon and a tone appears bringing your attention to the screen in the car asking, “Can we help you find parking?”  Or if you are driving around looking for a house for sale you saw on Zillow, and a message asks “Can we help you find a location?”  We shudder to think of the messages that might appear if your car has been idling at the local lover’s-lane for half an hour.

Tesla pioneered over-the-air software upgrades to its cars in the Model S.  Newer maps, updates to apps, and fixes to small vehicle issues can all be done remotely.  For the past few years, smug luxury EV owners have been looking down their noses at the more commonplace cars we all drive and asking “why doesn’t your car have this?”  Soon every car will, and at no observable added cost.  Automakers other than Tesla can already do what Tesla does – as long as your car has a high-speed data connection, which it will going forward.

GM and others have been putting telematics systems into low-volume, expensive cars for years now.  However, the 4G LTE systems are 100 times faster than those prior communications systems according to GM.  The appearance of high-speed internet in your vehicle is the next step in the evolution of the connected car.  GM plans to expand this capability to all its new vehicles and to offer the basic packages at no added cost for five full years after purchase.  Not some time in the distant future- now.