Cars

An OnStar ‘Event’; A Bootmobile visit; New Kelly VW site

Steve Schwinke has been with OnStar since the service’s launch 16 years ago, helping create the company’s suite of core products, which were designed to provide drivers with “safety, security, and peace of mind.”

Those features hit close to his Michigan home this fall.

Schwinke’s son, Ryan, came home from school (Michigan State) for a weekend and took a ride in his Chevrolet Cobalt, a car he’s had since high school, with his 12-year-old sister as a passenger.

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“I know, you never buy your high school kid a new car,”says Schwinke, director of OnStar’s advanced systems design,“but I wanted to make sure he had one with OnStar for all those reasons I keep espousing.”

It turns out that the siblings were involved in an“airbag deployment” accident.

“The car was totaled, but they were fine,”says Schwinke, who later reviewed the call that OnStar initiated when the airbags activated.

“After an airbag deploys the frontseat, passengers often are stunned,” Schwinke says.“but I could hear this little voice—my daughter Carly’s— from the back seat saying,‘We’re OK.’

Today, Schwinke’s mission is to make sure OnStar remains true to its original goal from 1996, even as the company expands its infotainment and connected offerings.

Schwinke met with the New England Motor Press Association earlier this month, talking about a company that continues to grow, has a strong retention rate, and has introduced FMV, an aftermarket product to retrofit non-GM vehicles.

OnStar’s main features, which are embedded in all new GM vehicles, remain automatic crash response, stolen vehicle assistance, turn-by-turn navigation, monitoring vehicle diagnostics, and hands-free calling.

Because of the imbedded connectivity of the system, OnStar can update its own software and that of other components—a process called reflashing. Schwinke says, “You can see the potential to deliver new software to other electrical components in the vehicle. GM will have to work closely with its dealers who traditionally have provided that service to the customers.”

OnStar has more than six million customers in the United States, Canada, and China. Its 2,000 employees and advisors are spread over five call centers, handle an average of 150,000 calls a day, interacting with a subscriber on average of once every three seconds.

Despite all the movement toward making On-Star an infotainment device, the basics remain.

“People want two things, emergency response and driving directions,” says Schwinke.

And driving directions are more popular in China than anywhere else.

“They’re hungry for navigation,” he says. “Chinese subscribers use the navigation service four times more than North Americans.”

OnStar, now in its 10th generation, is a GM subsidiary, providing its services for free for six months or a year to buyers of new Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC vehicles as well as three months for purchasers of used GM vehicles. Then a monthly fee of $19 or $29, the latter with turn-by-turn navigation, kicks in.

Schwinke is always studying the problem of driver distraction and the connected world we all live in.

“Hey, I drive the same roads as everyone else,” he says.

Ad Cars with Character

Some of the advertising cars we occasionally see are good for a smile. Among them the Red Bull Mini Cooper, Oscar MayerWienermobile, Lindt Gold Bunny Car, and Peepster Car. Add the L.L. Bean Bootmobile to that list. The promotional vehicle—13 feet long, 20 feet high— was at Boston College and the 129th Harvard- Yale football game last weekend and will be at Tufts Nov. 28th to show the company colors and winter gear lines.

The New Automile

Regarding smiles, there were a lot in Danvers last Nov. 15 as the Kelly Motor Group did a ceremonial groundbreaking for its newVolkswagen dealership.The store will be on Rte. 114 where the present Fiat dealership is located and has a projected opening date in April.The Fiat operation, meanwhile, will relocate to Rte. 1 in Lynnfield between the Kelly Nissan and Chrysler-Jeep locations. In case you haven’t driven along Rte. 114 lately, it’s becoming the North Shore’s version of the Automile with major dealer groups, including Kelly, Group One (Ira), Herb Chambers, andVillage Auto Group all having significant presences.

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