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FMV by OnStar brings telematics to your vehicle

Now those who own a car without OnStar installed at the GM factory can enjoy its benefits

OnStar was the first in-vehicle telematics system to succeed in the United States. Sixteen years ago General Motors introduced the system as an option and it became popular on more upscale models, as well as on larger, heavily optioned family vehicles. Well known, and now widely imitated by other manufacturers, OnStar is now available on 30 different GM products and has matured well. It does what its GM customers want, and it does it very well. In order to bring this user experience to more customers, OnStar has developed a system that can be installed in any vehicle, GM made or not. The new product is called OnStar FMV (For My Vehicle). Torque News spent 4 days with the new system to see what it can do, and learn how it does it.

The Equipment
In a General Motors vehicle that comes equipped with OnStar, the equipment needed is installed directly in the vehicles infotainment system (Radio, Nav, and phone systems). It seamlessly works through the car speakers and uses a microphone the owner never sees or thinks about. The cell phone style communications equipment and GPS is all part of the GM system. In non-GM vehicles, or even in a GM vehicle that came without OnStar, adding all of that sophisticated hardware and software would seem a challenge. General Motors and OnStar found a way to hide everything required in the driver’s rear-view mirror. The mirror isn’t unusually large either. In fact, we have seen larger mirrors come supplied with contemporary vehicles from a variety of manufacturers. The look and feel is also of a quality product. This mirror does not diminish the look of one’s car in any way. In addition to the mirror, OnStar’s installers will place a small microphone inside the vehicle. In our testing it wasn’t apparent until we searched for it, and there it was. Not a concern.

How To Get OnStar FMV
OnStar FMV isn’t very difficult to install, but in order to ensure a happy user experience OnStar markets the system via retailers with a reputation for being able to add electronics to cars. Best Buy’s Geek Squad is one example. The system can be installed by appointment in about an hour. Since the system is entirely contained within the OnStar mirror, the installer isn’t cutting and splicing any wires to integrate the system to the car stereo. The sounds come from the mirror itself (not through the car speakers). The installer simply taps into the auxiliary power supply cars come with that is hidden behind the dash. This is a good thing. It means that there are no worries about the installation going badly.

Safe and Sound
The FMV system is broken into two groups of functions, and this is common across the marketplace for such systems. First, the system protects the driver in a number of ways. Called Safe and Sound, this level of services is limited to automatic crash response, a link to emergency services, stolen vehicle assistance, and roadside assistance. This package is aimed at the family driver who wants to feel more secure in their travels. OnStar representatives that handle these calls are well trained. Each is Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) certified and can speak to a person in a crash to assess their situation, and then go further. The emergency advisor can offer medial instructions to help with first aid before responders arrived. The EMD trained advisor can also assess the situation, and prepare first responders for what they are going to find on-scene. The rest of the services are self-explanatory, but we will point out that the service negates the need for AAA in this vehicle, a cost savings of $50 per year or so. The stolen vehicle recovery system may also qualify owners for a discounted rate on the comprehensive section of the insurance they have on the vehicle. These two savings alone will cover the cost of installation.

Premium Directions and Connection
The second level of services is called Directions and Connections. This comes with all of the Safe and Sound offerings plus hands-free navigation, hands free phone (in two ways), Bluetooth connectivity to the driver’s enabled phone, and Connections, which is the live person one can speak with to obtain a variety of helpful things while on the road. It should be noted that Connections is not a full concierge level service, for example, the advisor won’t make a hotel reservation for you. However they will tell you the name phone number and location of the closest hotel and will even shop by brand for you. For example, the driver could ask ”Can you please tell me what hotels are within 10 miles of my destination?” After hearing the list, the driver could say “How far is the closest Best Western?” After the advisor answers the driver could say “Thank you please put that into my GPS for me.” Here is a more detailed breakdown of what the Directions and Connections suite of services can do based on our Torque News testing.

Voice Command Navigation
The voice command navigation system is very simple to use. The driver simply pushes the OnStar button and the system contacts the call center. Once the call is connected a live advisor greets the driver warmly and takes the address. The advisor inputs it to the OnStar FMV system, says goodbye after making sure that is all the help that is needed, and then an automated system takes over. The directions are spoken back to the driver by the automated nice-lady-computer-voice. In our testing, creating about a dozen routes, some close, some far away, it worked very well and exceeded our expectations. When we made a few turns off the planned path to mail a letter the system was able to handle that seamlessly. Thankfully, there isn’t an interruption asking what is going on. It simply kept recalculating the route. It worked well. If the driver takes a major wrong turn (which we did by taking a wrong exit at one point) the system asks the driver a few questions to determine if the driver wants to cancel the turn-by-turn Nav, recalculate, or choose a new destination. This really is the major service provided by Directions and Connections and OnStar has this well tuned.

There are situations where it would be great if the OnStar FMV could operate without first making the call to an advisor. For example, a driver will want to store his/her home as a destination. He may also want to check out destinations on-line and see the general layout of the route using Google Maps or MapQuest. FMV’s eNav system can do this and save those destinations, up to 5 maximum. The driver can then prompt the OnStar FMV system to input the destinations without first calling the advisor. To do this all he needs to do is look for the “Send” drop down menu on the Google or MapQuest mapping application. We tried both and Google Maps gave us trouble so we went to MapQuest and it worked flawlessly. We input a few destinations we planned to visit one night and saved them. They were easy to recall and it saved a bit of time compared to using the live advisor.

Bluetooth Pairing and Hands Free Phone
The OnStar FMV phone system can work in two ways. First, it acts like an old-school car phone, but with modern features. It has its own number and one buys minutes via the OnStar contract. For those without a smart phone that has Bluetooth (both of you) this is a viable option. Most people do have a phone that can work via Bluetooth and we found the pairing to be the simple. The reason is that the OnStar system walks you through it. Our Blackberry Bold connected on the first try.
Using the hands free phone is fine for incoming calls. You simply answer it by pressing a button on the mirror. Calling out can be done using that button and voice commands. The phone worked great. We have to emphasize the ease of use of the volume controls at this point. Having a simple up volume and down volume button is fantastic. Being able to simply tap the volume/power button on my test car was great too. It completely silences the radio so that you can speak. There is no disadvantage at all to this system versus a built-in system.

A Comparison to Lexus Enform
Enform by Lexus is a similar system to OnStar. One might say it is a copy of OnStar. Most manufacturers now offer some form of telematics system, but it generally comes as part of a very pricey infotainment package. We found that in every single way the OnStar FMV behaved the same way that Enform did. OnStar FMV might take this as a compliment. The OnStar FMV works just as well, and shockingly similar to Lexus Enform, but you can get it in any car at any price point.

On Star FMV Pricing
The installation is $99.00. The two packages are $199.00 per year for Safe and Sound (or $18.99 monthly) or $299.00 per year for Directions and Connections ($28.90 per month). If the user is planning to use the built in phone, rather than Bluetooth to their own phone, there are additional costs to buy minutes. These prices are competitive with other manufacturer’s systems built into their luxury models.

In conclusion, OnStar FMV works and it delivers on exactly what it promises. If one wants to own a car that does not have an expensive built-in Nav system, and many do, but wants a cost effective hands-free phone and navigation system – plus all the safety features this system comes loaded with – it is easy to say this is the perfect solution.