Though largely unknown in Australia, OnStar has been available overseas for almost 20 years and is the world’s leading provider of connected safety and security solutions, mobility services and advanced information technology in China, Mexico and North America, with more than seven million users in those markets.
The latest version of the system has recently launched in 13 European countries, including France, Germany and the UK.
OnStar incorporates a host of functions in the new Astra including a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot that allows passengers to connect to the internet on up to seven devices, the ability to speak with a call centre operator and have navigation destinations sent to your car as you drive, and access to a smartphone app that can operate certain functions of the car remotely and display real-time vehicle diagnostic information.
OnStar also features a red SOS button that allows drivers to request emergency assistance as well as an automatic emergency response function that notifies emergency services of a vehicle’s location if it has been involved in a crash and its occupants are unresponsive to a call from an operator.
In July, OnStar hit the milestone of fielding more than one billion interactions with motorists, including sending emergency services to help 5.5 million drivers in dangerous situations.
Mainstream rival Ford offers a similar automatic emergency call function as part of its Sync system in a number of its cars in Australia, while a handful of (predominantly luxury) brands offer Wi-Fi hotspot and call centre connectivity services.
But Holden customers will have a wait a while longer for the technology, with the brand’s communications director, Sean Poppitt, admitting larger markets will take priority over ours as the system is introduced around the world.
“OnStar is being rolled out progressively,” Poppitt said. “Europe’s only just got it. It’s a volume and a population and a critical mass thing. When you look as the size of the Chinese market, the size of the US market, the size of the combined European market, those bigger markets are first in line.
“We’re certainly working toward getting it onto the Australian market sometime in the future.”
The basic infrastructure exists in Australia to implement OnStar, but a lot of work needs to be done in order to make it operational, including developing data plans with phone companies and creating a local call centre, among others.
OnStar-equipped Opel Astra owners get a free 12-month subscription to the service but will have to pay for each year after that. In the US, OnStar cover ranges from US$200 to US$350 per year ($275 to $480), while a range of data packages are available providing up to 5GB per month for US$600 ($825) per year.
Holden dabbled with earlier versions of OnStar (rebranded as Holden Assist for our market) in certain high-end models last decade but experienced limited take-up of the service, and does not offer it in any model currently available.