We’re living in a high-tech world and the motor industry is awash with some incredible stuff. One such technology is telematics devices. A lot of new cars are being developed with things like this in mind. There are even companies, like Kabzy, that can retrofit devices that allow you to track and disable your car from anywhere in the world through an app. During the 2015 Christmas period I had the Opel Astra for two weeks. I’ve driven this car before but the main reason for my test was to check out Opel’s telematics technology, OnStar.
What is OnStar?
Opel describes OnStar as being “your personal connectivity and service assistant”. Some people may consider the whole OnStar service as another means for big brother to keep an eye on us all. I don’t. I found this system to be incredibly smart and occasionally useful. OnStar is a system that covers many aspects of your vehicle.
It is very like the telematics devices that some insurance companies use. It can track your location, run diagnostics on your car, and can contact emergency services if you’re ever in trouble. Unlike the telematics devices used by insurance companies in Ireland, users can touch a button on the roof of the Opel and get connected to the OnStar call centre in Luton, England.
I used OnStar on numerous occasions over two weeks with the Astra and I have to say that I was utterly impressed. I’m sure I annoyed the call centre staff with my simple requests, but it was all done in the name of research. My first connection with them was to see just how clever the technology was. I asked them to run a diagnostics check on my car and within seconds they were able to tell me everything I needed to know. They have information on all aspects of the car and can even pinpoint exactly where it is you are calling from.
The majority of other calls that I made to the call centre related to getting directions. On Christmas Eve I was in Ashbourne, Co. Meath, getting the last of my Christmas presents. I got a call from my wife asking me to pop into a Tesco to get something that was needed for the Christmas dinner. I’m not at all familiar with Ashbourne, so I pressed the blue OnStar button and asked them to direct me to the nearest store. About 30 seconds later Colin in the call centre had inputted the directions into my SATNAV.
It got to the point that I was calling the guys in Luton just to show off to my passengers. One thing that freaked-out one passenger was the complete awareness that Opel had on my location and travel movements. Every couple of minutes you will notice the touchscreen saying that it is sending the location of the car back to OnStar. However, this is a service that you can opt out of at any time. If you want to turn off OnStar all you have to do is press the button for five seconds. To turn it back on just press the button for another 5 seconds.
Of course OnStar is not just about diagnostics and getting places by using the SATNAV. There are some very important safety features with the system. Firstly, if you ever need roadside assistance, help is just the press of a button away.
OnStar also informs the call centre if the airbags of the vehicle have deployed or if the car thinks that it has been involved in a crash. In occasions like this the OnStar team contact the car to see if everything is okay. They ask if help is needed and if they don’t get an answer they contact emergency services and give them the exact location of the car.
Because OnStar always knows the location of a vehicle it can also be handy if the car is ever stolen. They can forward the location of the vehicle onto An Garda Síochána.
The first year of the OnStar service is free, and rightly so – considering that customers will be spending at least €19,995 for an entry model. There is a cost after the first year which is set at €99 per annum.
Personally I would say that it is a very convenient system. For example, apart from the obvious safety features of the system, I’ve test driven hundreds of cars and I still have some problems inputting addresses into certain SATNAVs. OnStar takes the pain out of it because instead of fidgeting around and inputting the information yourself, the good people in the call centre can do it for you.
The first time that I tested OnStar was at the launch of the all-new Astra in Bratislava. Unfortunately I had what I will call “communication problems” with the person in the call centre. I probably sounded a bit funny to the European call centre I was connected to. As a result that person couldn’t input the destination that I required. This will certainly be something that Opel should examine because some people drive their cars internationally.
Apart from the teething problem above, OnStar is an excellent service. Yes, it may freak out the paranoid of us, but the ease in which it can be used is brilliant. Also, the fact that the call centre can tell me everything I need to know about the car is kind of spooky.
Read Brian’s review of the Astra here.