|Santiago Chamorro, Vice President|
OnStar Corporation is a subsidiary of General Motors that provides subscription-based communications, in-vehicle security, emergency services, hands-free calling, turn-by-turn navigation, and remote diagnostics systems throughout the United States, Canada, China, Mexico, Europe, Brazil, and Argentina. A similar service is known as Vauxhall/Opel OnStar in western Europe and ChevyStar in Latin American markets (except in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina). In September 2011 the president of OnStar stated that the service had more than six million customers. On May 9, 2018, Vauxhall Motors announced that Vauxhall OnStar, alongside Opel OnStar services, would cease to operate after December 31, 2020, following Groupe PSA's purchase of Vauxhall Motors and Opel from General Motors.
A new aftermarket interior rear-view mirror with a built-in OnStar module, branded as OnStar FMV, became publicly available on July 24, 2011. It provides some of the features an OEM system has, such as Automatic Crash Response, Stolen Vehicle Tracking, Turn-by-Turn Navigation, and Roadside Assistance.
The OnStar service relied on CDMA mobile phone voice and data communication, primarily via Verizon Wireless in the United States and Bell Mobility in Canada, as well as location information using GPS technology. AT&T announced the contract to replace Verizon in 2013 based on 4G technology from 2014. Drivers and passengers can use its audio interface to contact OnStar representatives for emergency services, vehicle diagnostics and directions.
The OnStar service allows users to contact OnStar call centers during an emergency. In the event of a collision, detected by airbag deployment or other sensors, Advanced Automatic Collision Notification features can automatically send information about the vehicle's condition and GPS location to OnStar call centers. OnStar has 24-hour emergency call centers in Warren, Michigan; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Ontario, Canada, and other call centers in Makati, Philippines; and Oshawa, Ontario. This Advanced Automatic Collision Notification service is designed to assist emergency response efforts.
All OnStar-equipped vehicles have Stolen Vehicle Tracking, which can provide the police with the vehicle's exact location, speed, and direction of movement.
Starting in the 2009 model year, General Motors began equipping some new vehicles with Stolen Vehicle Slowdown. This feature allows OnStar to remotely slow down the stolen vehicle. The service is also expected to help reduce the risk of property damage, serious injuries or fatalities resulting from high-speed pursuits of stolen vehicles. Customers may opt out of that function. The first successful use of this service occurred in October 2009 when a stolen Chevrolet Tahoe was recovered and its suspected thief was apprehended.
Also in 2009, General Motors began equipping some new vehicles with Remote Ignition Block, allowing OnStar to remotely deactivate the ignition so when the stolen vehicle is shut off, it cannot be restarted.
All Stolen Vehicle Assistance services (Stolen Vehicle Tracking, Stolen Vehicle Slowdown and Remote Ignition Block) can be requested by the OnStar subscriber, but OnStar will not activate them until confirming with the police that the vehicle has been reported as stolen.
OnStar subscribers may be eligible for anti-theft and low mileage insurance discounts. Since OnStar can help with the recovery of a stolen vehicle, some insurance companies recognize this and offer a discount. Also, with certain insurance companies (for example, GMAC Insurance) and with subscriber permission, OnStar will send the insurance company the vehicle's odometer reading every month. If the subscriber qualifies as a low-mileage driver, they may be eligible for an insurance discount.
Even if the vehicle is OnStar equipped, no OnStar services are available until the system is activated. Vehicle owners can choose between six plans:
- Connected Access: Free, includes Vehicle Diagnostics, Dealer Maintenance Notification, Chevrolet Smart Driver, Chevrolet Marketplace, and In-Vehicle App Access
- Remote Access: $14.99/mo or $149.90/yr, includes all services in the Connected Access, plus Remote Key Fob, Family Link and On-Demand Diagnostics and Vehicle Locate
- Unlimited Access: $39.99/mo, includes all services in the Connected and Remote Access, plus Turn-By-Turn Directions, Connected Navigation, and Unlimited Data
- Safety & Security: $24.99/mo or $249.90/yr, includes all services in the Connected Access, plus Automatic Crash Response, Emergency Services, Roadside Assistance, Crisis Alert, Stolen Vehicle Assistance and Turn-By-Turn Directions
- Remote Access + Safety & Security: $34.99/mo or $349.90/yr, includes all services in the Connected Access, Remote Access and Safety & Security Plans
- Unlimited Access + Safety & Security: $59.99/mo, includes all services in the Connected Access, Unlimited Access and Safety & Security Plans
Legacy Plans no longer able to be purchased.
- Basic: Free for first 5 years, which includes Remote Access, Advanced Diagnostics and Smart Driver which provides advice on driving style
- Protection: $19.99/mo, which includes Advanced Automatic Collision Notification, Emergency Services, Crisis Assist, Roadside Assistance, Remote Access, Advanced Diagnostics and 24/7 access to Advisors
- Security: $24.99/mo, includes all services in the Protection plan, plus Stolen Vehicle Assistance
- Guidance: $34.99/mo, includes all services in the Security plan, plus turn-by-turn navigation, OnStar AtYourService, and 30 Hands-Free Calling Minutes
OnStar was formed in 1996 as a collaboration between GM, Electronic Data Systems and Hughes Electronics Corporation. Each of the founding companies brought a specific area of expertise to the enterprise: GM brought vehicle design and integration and a distribution system of millions of vehicles, EDS brought much of the systems development and information management and customer service technologies, while Hughes (creators of DirecTV) contributed communications and satellite technology and automotive electronics.
In 1996, GM North America Operations President Rick Wagoner officially launched OnStar at the Chicago Auto Show. OnStar delivered its first product and service to the market in 11 months, in the fall of 1996 for model-year 1997 Cadillac DeVille, Cadillac Seville and Cadillac Eldorado models. From 2002 to 2006, OnStar service was available on vehicles produced by Acura, Isuzu, Subaru and Volkswagen through a licensing agreement.
In April 2006, GM notified approximately 500,000 of their OnStar customers who had analog service that their service would be terminated effective December 31, 2007, because starting February 18, 2008 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would no longer require US cell phone systems to operate in analog mode. Customers who purchased a prepaid, non-refundable, non-transferable 1-year OnStar Safe & Sound subscription were scheduled to receive an equipment upgrade. If the vehicle is from the 2003, 2004, or 2005 model year, an adapter costing approximately US$200 (includes a one-year subscription) can be installed at the customer's expense. If it is older, it will simply no longer be usable. A law firm in Pennsylvania representing some of the affected customers sought to have a class certified for a class action lawsuit for damages claimed in the cancellation of OnStar service.
Since 2014 OnStar offers LTE Wi-Fi service on select GM cars.
In December 2009, Shanghai OnStar Telematics Co. Ltd., a joint venture between General Motors, SAIC Group and SGM (Shanghai GM), began offering its services in China. It is available on select Cadillac, Buick and Chevrolet vehicles and China Telecom is the wireless network provider throughout China. The service will be available throughout mainland China and will be first launched in Mandarin Chinese.
In June 2013, OnStar announced its entry to the Mexican market. The first vehicles who obtained the system were the 2014 Chevrolet Cheyenne and the 2014 GMC Sierra. Currently it is available in nearly all of General Motors vehicles available in the country with the Chevrolet Beat, Chevrolet Aveo, Chevrolet Tornado and Chevrolet S10 being the only exceptions.
Advocates promote OnStar as an essential safety tool. GM commercials have compared it to seatbelts and airbags, as the next major technology for safe driving. The benefits, they say, include its ability to aid police in tracking down stolen vehicles; contacting emergency medical services in case of an accident (should the driver request this or be non-responsive); notifying drivers of potentially dangerous mechanical problems; emails are sent to owners that give a diagnostics of their vehicle every month if subscribed to; and unlocking doors for drivers (after verifying authorization over the phone) should their keys be misplaced or locked inside their car. OnStar's basic subscription also includes Roadside assistance, as well HFC (Hands Free Calling) which is integrated into the OnStar system and operates in the same way as a regular cell phone does except that it is operated through voice recognition. Automatic Crash Response allows emergency advisors to provide emergency medical services (EMS) with additional crash information such as rollover status, direction of impact, which airbags have deployed (front, side etc.,) and the Delta-V (change in velocity) Force which is a medical measure of the intensity of an impact. All this information allows EMS to respond to the crash with appropriate equipment.
In September 2011, OnStar has changed its terms and conditions to allow sale of vehicle location and speeds to interested third parties including law enforcement agencies, which has been criticized in the comp.risks forum.
Use as surveillance device
OnStar is theoretically possible to remotely activate by malicious third parties or under government order. This activation would enable third parties to track the location of the car, along with the ability to listen to the contents of any conversations carried on by the occupants within the car without their consent. However, the FBI has been denied the ability to use this as it disables OnStar's safety features, as determined by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In its document of privacy practices, OnStar states that it is not possible for them to listen to or monitor conversations in a car without the knowledge of the occupant. The hardware is designed so that when an advisor calls into a car, a light flashes, a ring tone is heard, and the radio will mute.
In 2011, OnStar said that it would start retaining all the information collected by the GPS and internal system so that it could be sold to third parties (possibly insurance companies). Although this data is supposed to be "anonymized", exactly what OnStar means by anonymizing GPS data remains unclear, and it may be impossible to make the data actually anonymous. A few weeks later, after outcry from subscribers and privacy advocate groups, OnStar reversed the decision to continue collecting information from unsubscribed units.
A 2019 experiment hacking into the data collected by a 2017 Chevrolet Volt revealed that the car stored logs of calls made from the user's cell phone, as well as location and driving data, which could then be sold to third parties.
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In 2000, GM produced a series of Batman OnStar commercials that featured Batman (using the Batmobile and props from the 1989 film) using the service to call people, access his mail, navigate to certain locations, and to unlock the Batmobile. These were discontinued with radio commercials.
GM promoted the service with radio commercials (called "Real Calls") demonstrating how it would work. It provided the recording of someone interacting with OnStar in various scenarios designed to show its utility. The commercials stated that these were recordings of actual instances of customers using the services, and gave the date on which they occurred.
From 2004 to 2009, OnStar was a sponsor for guest appearances on ESPN Radio programming, dubbed the "OnStar Hotline".
In September 2010 under then-President Chris Preuss, OnStar relaunched its brand with a series of commercials with the theme of "Live On". According to Chief Marketing Officer Sam Mancuso, the campaign was designed to change how people view OnStar, "It's not about waiting for something to happen but something people can use every day."
From 2008, OnStar has offered "Santa tracking" in all equipped vehicles around the festive period. This has allowed children worldwide to see Santa's location on Christmas Eve. Each time this feature is used, OnStar also made donations to various charities.
GM is currently deploying OnStar Generation 10 hardware that includes enhanced services and diagnostics and the ability to use the mobile application RemoteLink, which allows a subscriber to perform many functions without the need for calling into the OnStar center. Functions include remote start, remote lock and unlock, flashing lights and horn as well as viewing up-to-date diagnostics data from the subscriber's iPhone or Android-powered mobile phone. As of 2011 OnStar hardware is currently only manufactured by LG Electronics, although early models were made by Hughes for Gen 1, Delphi for Gen 2, and Motorola for Gen 4 to Gen 6.
The Gen 1 to Gen 4 models were analog. All were for Class 2 bus. Gen 5 models were a transition period. Some Gen 5 models actually contained both analog and digital cellular phone modules. Also, there were both Class 2 and CAN bus models.
The Gen 6 and up models are CDMA digital. Some were Class 2 bus and some were CAN (Controller Area Network) bus.
Some Gen 5 and Gen 6 models were compatible with each other providing some upgrades to some customers to digital. Analog cellular was turned off in February 2008. Customers who had the Gen 1 through Gen 4 models were unable to upgrade to the digital Gen 6.
OnStar FMV (For My Vehicle)
In 2011, OnStar introduced the OnStar FMV system. The system, which embedded both the OnStar system, as well as Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, into an automatically-dimming rear view mirror that replaced the existing rear view mirror in nearly any vehicle that was not equipped from the factory with the OnStar system. The system was able to provide all of the features of OnStar, except for those services which required integration of the vehicle's computer (such as Stolen Vehicle Slowdown and Automatic Airbag Deployment Notification). Instead, the system included sensors that detected irregular movement of the mirror and triggered a call to the OnStar emergency response center. Wireless service was provided through Verizon Wireless. The system was compatible with most vehicles manufactured from model year 2000 to 2014, as long as the vehicle was not equipped from the factory with the OnStar system, however, OnStar noted that the system "should not be installed in vehicles such as the Jeep Wrangler, Toyota FJ Cruiser, Hummer, Recreational Vehicle (RV's), or Semi Truck" due to the "extreme windshield angles and/or excessive size" and therefore had the "inability to detect a crash". Professional installation from an OnStar FMV retailer, such as select automotive dealerships and electronic retailers (such as Best Buy), was recommended. An annual OnStar subscription for the FMV cost US$299.00.
On March 3, 2014, OnStar announced that they would be discontinuing production and sales of the OnStar FMV system. While not citing a reason for the discontinuation of the FMV, OnStar said that they "have gained a number of key insights by launching OnStar FMV that will be very valuable as (we) investigate future ventures in the retail space". However, owners of the OnStar FMV would continue to receive service for their device as long as they continued to subscribe. Similar services are offered from the factory on more vehicles, with the initial service cost being included for a trial period, as well as offering more features, such as in-vehicle Wi-Fi connectivity via 3G or 4G LTE, enhanced accident response systems, remote ignition disabling, and remote control services of the vehicle.
Vulnerability to hacking
On July 30, 2015, Samy Kamkar introduced OwnStar - a small electronic device that could be concealed on or near a General Motors vehicle to interpose itself between the vehicle's OnStar link and the driver's OnStar RemoteLink app. In this classic man-in-the-middle attack, Kamkar, or any unauthorized user, could substitute his OnStar commands to locate, unlock, or start the vehicle. By August 11, General Motors had released upgrades to the OnStar server software and RemoteLink app to block such attacks.
- Advanced Automatic Collision Notification
- Dashtop mobile
- GPS tracking unit
- Lexus Link
- Vehicle tracking system
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