Can OnStar Help Chevy Sell the Volt and Utilities Manage the Load?
Can the combination of electric vehicles and software services return General Motors to relevance? Two decades after the introduction of the EV1, not to mention the subsequent controversy created by its cancelation — well documented by the film that became an underground sensation Who Killed the Electric Car? — the Chevrolet Volt is General Motors' latest entrant into the electric vehicle market. While the Volt may get the bulk of the press, the software services that support the automobile may be the business that allows General Motors to compete in the next generation of automotive innovation.
OnStar, a subsidiary of General Motors, has garnered success by providing communications and mobility services, security, remote diagnostics and navigation by subscription to drivers of General Motors' vehicles. The trend towards software-enabled functionality has been guiding automotive development in recent years but the imminent adoption of electric vehicles necessitates the advancement of this functionality. OnStar, and by extension General Motors, may be well positioned to capitalize on this emerging market.
Much of the media attention is focused on the plethora of entrants into the electric vehicle market from traditional automobile manufacturers as well as upstart competitors. Yet, an equal amount of effort and capital has been dedicated to developing the infrastructure to support the assumed widespread adoption of electric vehicles. Consumers need to know the location of the nearest charging station when traveling, the availability of that charging station, the current status of their battery charge and when that charge is complete. A number of solutions have emerged to provide such information including the ChargePoint Network developed by Coulomb Technologies in conjunction with the Department of Energy, the Plug Smart Network developed by a partnership between GE and Juice Technologies and a recently announced agreement between Google and the Department of Energy to integrate electric vehicle charging station and infrastructure information into Google Maps.
The most significant barrier to adoption in many consumers' minds is "range anxiety." Before agreeing to convert to electric vehicles, mainstream consumers will demand assurances — in the form of more information — to alleviate this concern. Our economy thrives on information and the emerging solutions are being optimized to alleviate range anxiety. What's the status of my battery? Where's the next available charging station? Can I reserve that station while I eat my lunch, go to the movies or play a round of golf? Given OnStar's history of successfully providing their drivers with the necessary information to alleviate other worries, the company’s integration of electric vehicle-centric information is a logical extension to their existing business model. The joint development between Chevrolet and OnStar to provide an information portal for the Chevy Volt holds promise in these early days.
Photo shows ENN Publisher Roger Greenway getting delivery of his Volt earlier this year. To date, he has put more than 4,000 miles on it and bought gas once! He is getting more than 500 miles per gallon on the one tank of gas he bought (after the dealer's fill up on delivery). He uses his volt for mostly local driving, and can charge at home and at work, so for him the Volt is truly an electric vehicle. Credit: Roger Greenway