GM to Offer Web, Cell Services By Year's End

FRAMINGHAM (04/07/2000) - The Detroit-based automaker said it will offer a Communiport Infotainment PC system developed by Delphi Automotive Systems Corp. in Troy, Michigan, to new Cadillac owners by the end of this year.

General Motors Corp. officials touted the cellular system as being safer to use while driving than a phone handset. Using a dashboard-based, voice-activated computer, drivers will be able to listen to e-mail messages and make cellular calls. The system is integrated with the vehicle's radio and also features a CD-ROM, navigation system and voice memo recorder. Drivers would have to forward messages from their existing messaging system to a GM-based account in order to access them from the road.

The Infotainment system will be carried as an option in GM's 2001 luxury Seville and DeVille models. Officials estimate that the voice-controlled system will cost approximately $2,000 per vehicle.

According to GM, 75 percent of Cadillac owners surveyed recently expressed an interest in in-vehicle e-mail access and other online services. The automaker plans to extend the Infotainment system to its lower-end vehicles at an unspecified later date, officials said.

In a separate initiative, GM will equip approximately 1 million vehicles with embedded, hands-free cellular services by year's end, with more than 4 million automobiles equipped by 2003. Vehicle owners will have to subscribe to a service, GM Virtual Advisor, in order to use the embedded system.

The annual fee for the service subscription will start at $195. Callers will receive cellular access through Verizon Wireless, a new joint venture founded by Bell Atlantic Corp. and Vodafone Air Touch PLC. When making cellular calls from their vehicles, subscribers will pay line charges, in addition to the subscription fee.

More than 160,000 vehicle owners subscribe to GM's current OnStar service, an onboard system that offers navigational, roadside emergency and concierge services.

Automotive analyst Jim Hall at AutoPacific Inc. in Tustin, California, said GM's OnStar business is a potential financial hazard for the world's largest automaker, because it departs from the company's core business and cellular services prices are dropping and other automakers are beginning to offer similar options on their vehicle lines.

"A lot of OnStar's services can arguably be provided more economically by an outside supplier," Hall said. "The concierge service could be done by your cell phone supplier, and the people (providing the service) would not have to be given GM paychecks and GM benefits."

Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford Motor Co. has also announced plans to make voice-activated Web access, navigation and safety systems available in its vehicles by the end of this year.

However, Gartner Group Inc. issued a statement this week concluding "automobile manufacturers have a great opportunity to receive additional revenue with in-vehicle Internet access."

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