Beginning with its 2014 models, consumers buying General Motors vehicles will be able to unlock doors, activate their horns and lights and even remotely start factory-equipped vehicles through the OnStar RemoteLink Mobile App.
Phil Abram, GM's chief infotainment officer, said he new RemoteLink Key Fob Services program for OnStar-equipped vehicles will become a standard feature—and fee-free for five years. It will be added to 2014 models sold in the United States by Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac.
It is the broadest deployment of remote services offered through a mobile app by any auto manufacturer, GM claims—and underscores what has become a virtual war between manufacturers racing to outdo one another with infotainment systems—especially features that focus on safety and security.
Thirty-six 2014 model-year GM vehicles are compatible with the RemoteLink mobile app, noted Abram, adding that, "No other manufacturer can come close to offering this."
"We know our customers value remote services," said Mary Chan, president of GM Global Connected Consumer. "GM owners request remote door unlock assistance through OnStar more than 60,000 times each month, so it makes sense for us to offer RemoteLink Key Fob Services to enable customers to lock, unlock or start their vehicle from anywhere they have a wireless or cellular connection."
Remote start is the most popular remote service by current users of the RemoteLink Mobile App according to OnStar.
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Once a customer takes delivery of an eligible 2014 GM vehicle, they can simply download the free application to a compatible smartphone and agree to its terms. The five-year period runs from the vehicle delivery date.
"Our vehicles are getting more connected, and so are we. As mobile devices become a bigger part of our lives, GM understands the importance of providing our customers the ability to use these devices as part of their vehicle experience," said Chan, adding that in-car technology has become a key factor in helping consumers decide which vehicle to purchase.
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Chan cited a recent study by J.D. Power & Associates in which 82 percent of the consumers surveyed indicated they wanted technology to help them keep connected.
The complete set of RemoteLink Mobile App services remain available with a trial or paid OnStar subscription. Additional services include monitoring the status of the vehicle's operating systems, including remaining oil life, fuel level range in miles, tire pressure, and miles per gallon.
It also includes a one-touch connection to an OnStar Advisor for a simple request or emergency need. RemoteLink Mobile App users with the Directions and Connections plan can also send Turn-by-Turn directions directly from their smartphone to their vehicle.
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"What's great about the RemoteLink Key Fob Services is that it works far beyond the range of a traditional key fob, which can come in handy in a number of situations," such as starting your car on a cold day as you leave the office or ensuring your vehicle is safely locked in the airport parking lot as you sit in the terminal, Abram said.
"Customers expect the connection to their vehicle to be available anywhere they go and anytime they want to use it," added Alan Batey, GM vice president, U.S. sales and service. "RemoteLink Key Fob Services represent simple, smart connectivity and another example of how our brands are evolving services and connecting with our customers."
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GM introduced the auto industry's first mobile app when it launched RemoteLink for the Chevrolet Volt in 2010 using OnStar technology. Today, the RemoteLink Mobile App, which is available for nearly all GM brands, has been downloaded more than 1.5 million times with more than 320,000 regular users.
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The full suite of OnStar in-vehicle services also includes 24/7 access to a live Advisor, Automatic Crash Response, Stolen Vehicle Assistance, Hands-Free Calling, Vehicle Diagnostics and Turn-by-Turn Navigation.
-By CNBC Contributor Paul Eisenstein; Follow him on Twitter @DetroitBureau