General Motors Launches In-Vehicle E-mail Access

SAN MATEO (04/06/2000) - General Motors Corp. on Thursday revealed its next major step in deploying telematics, in-vehicle computer and Internet services, across its many vehicle brands. The first version, the Cadillac Infotainment System, will be installed in Seville and Deville 2001 models.

The integrated PC system will continue to be rolled out in stages with a target of 30 GM makes and models all offering the same access to e-mail and Internet information services, using speech technology, by the end of next year, according to Mark Hogan, president of e-GM.

Hogan said the systems will have the same look and feel in all brands as a way of insuring safety.

GM also announced an upgrade of its OnStar system to the OnStar Virtual Advisor. By the end of the year, OnStar-enabled vehicles will include a built-in, hands-free wireless phone service with voice dialing. The nationwide wireless service will be launched in partnership with Verizon Wireless, a newly formed company created by Bell Atlantic and Vodafone.

The OnStar pricing, about $199 for basic service and $395 for upgraded services, will remain the same with a per-minute charge for use of the phone.

GM is also considering a prepayment for a fixed number of minutes pricing model.

Thursday's announcement was for 2001 model year Seville and Deville Cadillacs only, which will go on sale this fall. The Cadillac Infotainment system is a factory-installed OEM product from the Bose.

The system will read e-mails while the car is in motion and will allow for viewing on an in-dash screen when the vehicle is stopped. Also included in the system is an infrared port for downloading e-mails to a personal digital assistant as well as a compact flash slot. Compact flash, which is about half the size of a PC Card, is now being used for smart cards, hard drives, as well as memory devices for storing and transferring files.

Hogan said GM is also in the process of developing business applications for the telematics system for use in sales force automation applications, fleet management, and the rental car market.

"Our intention is to architect this system to be open so that many types of applications can be developed," Hogan said Access to e-mail while on the road may appeal to many mobile workers who spend a great deal of time in their cars.

"It's fantastic if you can get your mail while moving rather than stopping the car in the parking lot. It is especially useful in a town like Los Angeles, where you are always in the car," said Ginny Povall, a specialist with The Kooper Group, an employee benefit consulting firm based in New York.

Hogan emphasized safety concerns at the announcement and reiterated that the hands-free, eyes-free interface for access to any service will reduce driver distractions.

One analyst believes GM will seek to satisfy safety concerns by gaining endorsements from a major consumer advocacy group.

"This could be a big incremental revenue opportunity, and GM will make certain they have all of their bases covered when it comes to safety issues. There will be a third-party endorsement from a safety organization that will say 'We think it is appropriate for use,'" said Adam J. Weiner, senior auto analyst at Gomez Advisors, in Lincoln, Mass.

General Motors Corp., in Detroit can be reached at www.gm.com.

InfoWorld Editor at Large Ephraim Schwartz is based in San Francisco.

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