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OnStar Offers Crisis Assistance During Weather Emergencies

by Roger Lanctot | 5月 30, 2014

Three years after I wrote this blog (Me, OnStar and Irene -, and nine years after Katrina OnStar has notified all current and former subscribers that it will offer its Crisis Assist services to all of its customers for free regardless of their subscription plan in the event of an extreme weather emergency. OnStar actually went futher nine years ago during Katrina but refused to make a public announcement of the offer, in spite of the pleas of state attorneys general (see blog).

Crisis Assist is part of OnStar's premium navigation services.  Crisis Assist allows OnStar to provide customers with complimentary hands-free calling minutes to that people can reach loved ones or authorities when communications are down.

The decision by OnStar only partially fulfills the recommendation that I made three years ago, to make OnStar resources more widely available to public authorities and the media during severe weather events. During hurricanes in the U.S., television stations pre-empt their regular broadcasts to bring a steady stream of storm updates to viewers.

During these broadcast periods the networks are desperate for new information and perspectives on the storm and it is my belief that OnStar is in a unique position with a regional view of the event and the emergency response to enhance the public communication. OnStar says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting a 70 percent chance of eight to 13 named storms occurring during the season, three to six of which could become hurricanes.

The Atlantic hurricane season typically runs from June 1-Nov. 30 and includes coastal regions of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. OnStar says approximately 1.1 million of its subscribers live within this area. (Strategy Analytics believes there could be twice as many inactive OnStar systems in the area capable of delivering urgent assistance during a crisis if OnStar were to re-activate the service during an emergency as it has in the past.)

The move is an excellent public service for OnStar - though the company may be missing a chance to restore old connections by offering it to customers with expired subscriptions. The decision also touches a nerve in the automobile club community.

During hurricanes, AAA becomes a dominant resource on television broadcasts offering guidance and advice to members and non-members alike. I still believe there is an opportunity for OnStar to play a similar, high profile role.

I mention this automobile club vs. telematics service provider proposition because automobile clubs around the world are increasingly seeing telematics service providers as direct competition. The emergence of smartphones and mobile navigation have put huge pressure on the trip planning value proposition offered by auto clubs and the roadside assistance element of telematics has cut into the auto club towing franchise.

In Europe, auto clubs are maneuvering to insist on the legal right to equal access to vehicle data and customers via eCall and telematics systems. In other words, the auto clubs want open access to emergency communications from connected cars so they can have a shot at related towing and roadside assistance opportunities.

In the U.S., AAA has yet to take the open telematics data access tack, but the organization is under pressure from emergence of smartphones and embedded telematics systems. AAA chapters around the U.S. have pursued varying strategies to connect with customers including the introduction of smartphone apps and aftermarket OBDII devices and even legislation (in California) governing customer privacy.

Meanwhile, OnStar with its 6m+ subscribers and geospatial assets and call centers can perform a huge public service by making its resources available to broadcasters – even if some might perceive the gesture as self-promotion. Is self-promotion wrong if it saves lives?

The OnStar announcement is another important communication and brand statement around safety.  It also points out the value of sharing information.  Customers overly concerned with privacy may cut themselves off from a lifesaving service.

It is not clear how the auto clubs’ demands for open access to urgent vehicle communications will play out in Europe or whether AAA’s aftermarket plays will work. But if car makers like GM/OnStar are proactive in sharing data that is of critical importance to the public and emergency responders, the issue will be rendered moot.

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