GM Wants to Curate Your Car Experience

General Motors recently announced that it is going to stop supporting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in some of its vehicles. These are smartphone mirroring apps that let a driver use their cellphone to connect to music, get driving directions, listen to eBooks, etc. GM announced that it plans to block the smartphone connection capability and will instead run a Google infotainment suite that includes Google Maps, Google Assistant, Spotify, and other apps that will be built into the dashboard display.

The company is not alone, and other companies like Mercedes and VW don’t like smartphone mirroring. GM says that it is doing this to take back control over customers and the in-car experience. I had to pause at that statement because I can’t think of a time when carmakers had that kind of control.

An article in Light Reading quoted an analyst saying that this means that the bandwidth used by the average car would grow from a few hundred megabytes per month to 4-8 gigabytes per month. That seems like a gigantic increase in bandwidth to me to take over the functions that were already going through a cellphone. Does this mean that the average driver really uses 4-8 gigabytes per month on the cellphone while driving? That can’t be true, and there is more at play here.

This raises a lot of questions for me. Does this finally mean that AT&T will reach its dream of requiring car owners to subscribe to a cellular subscription? That’s something the company has been angling for since the first conversations about smart cars and 5G. It seems likely that the cost of this service will be embedded in the cost of the car for the first year, but will all car owners be required to subscribe to this service when the paid year lapses? You might not have a choice if you can’t use your cell phone. Perhaps the car makers will pay this for a longer period if gaining control of the customer experience can generate additional monetary benefits higher than the cost of the cellular subscription.

Car companies have been trying to force subscriptions on car owners for years with the OnStar service. But most people drop that service at the end of the free period after buying a new car. I may be wrong, but I can’t see most car owners willing to buy a new monthly data subscription. There is no doubt that a 4–8 gigabyte cellular subscription is not going to come cheap.

Carmakers wouldn’t be considering this unless it will make them money. I can think of several ways this could financially benefit them. They might get a share of any revenues paid to AT&T for a subscription. I have to imagine Google will pay them for getting access to a car’s data – having a car connected to a cellular plan will let car makers gather detailed analytics on how the car is being driven, and I imagine that creates a revenue opportunity for selling driver data to insurance companies and others. A car is not going to use 8 gigabytes of data monthly by connecting only to GPS and listening to music. That much data has to mean transferring a lot of base analytics about the car and the driver. I can’t imagine paying for a subscription that would let GM and Google spy on me.

This also raises questions about tying my car to a cellular carrier. The new FCC maps for the big cellular companies are a joke. There are huge areas of the country that have little or no cellular coverage. I live in Appalachia, and I don’t have to drive far to find areas with no cell coverage. One town we visit is Boone, NC, and over half of the drive between here and there has zero cell coverage. How will car companies deal with irate customers that require a service that doesn’t function where they live? My wife listens to an eBook from her phone on that drive – I know how upset she would be if that no longer works because she can’t connect her cellphone to the car speakers.

I’m not sure why carmakers think folks want or will accept this. I might be the exception, but I would never buy a car that forced this on me unless I had the option to disable it. I don’t want to be curated and monitored by my carmaker. Their relationship with me ends the day I pay for the car. My wife avidly dislikes Android and wouldn’t buy a car that forced her to connect to Google and Android instead of her preferred IOs. If GM or any other company mandates this, we’d take them off our list of cars to consider.

4 thoughts on “GM Wants to Curate Your Car Experience

  1. Great observation. I note that “ There is no doubt that a 4–8 gigabit cellular subscription is not going to come cheap.” should be “gigabyte” since it references gigabytes mentioned earlier. Or perhaps I miss read.

  2. Yes, you are right. GM’s decision has more to do with their ability to “monetize” and control their customers, and their cars, for GM’s benefit… and less to do with GM regaining control of an experience they never had control of in the first place. Shame on them!

  3. Good column, but it doesn’t (imo) cover nearly enough of the upcoming Transportation as a Service debacle.

    One of the big challenges of adding service features to… anything… is that your use of that thing (house with smart appliances, car with smart features) is now dependent on the provider of the service staying in business and continuing to offer the service.

    Behold the Google Graveyard: And, it’s not just Google, Amazon is killing their health device services. Eventually, anyone can either decide that a service isn’t profitable enough to warrant company attention.

    I bought a used 2018 electric Smart Car. It has some limited info/entertainment stuff that’s controllable by app. Other parts of the car (service calendar…) may be controllable by the app also. I wouldn’t know because Smart discontinued selling these cars in the US in 2019 and, unsurprisingly, stopped supporting the app.

    Happily, the radio still has manual controls so I’m just missing some advanced niceness. But, pay attention: *this is your future*.

    As cars (EVs in particular) get more dependent on info services, either touching the outside world or just, internal affecting their operation, the more likely it is that manufacturers will refuse to support older versions. They have the same testing and quality problems that phone manufacturers do. There’s money to be made servicing older cars but less and less if the service depends on keeping old software running.

    So, I believe that the future will move away from car ownership so that manufacturers have the ability to move way from supporting versions older than a certain level. TaaS. Somewhat like tractors and combines. Just like phones.

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