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Onstar promises extra value for Vauxhall's fleet customers

Date: 15 July 2015   |   Author:

The new system will offer telematics-free fleets an insight into the state of their vehicles, as well as benefits including wi-fi and emergency response alerts. Paul Barker finds out more

Vauxhall's Onstar system will finally make it to the UK later this year, as part of the European launch that comes almost two decades after it first arrived in the US.

The company's "personal connectivity and service assistant" offers a range of benefits, including:

?  4G wi-fi hotspot for up to seven devices
?  automatic emergency response notification if the airbags are deployed
?  stolen vehicle tracking
?  monthly diagnostic emails to drivers
?  direct link to call centre which can send destinations to the satnav, check the vehicle remotely to diagnose problems and if necessary connect the driver to a dealer or send a recovery vehicle
?  smartphone app that can send destinations to the navigation, contact the Onstar call centre, show fuel and oil level or tyre pressures, remotely lock or unlock the vehicle, locate the vehicle via GPS, and flash the lights or honk the horn to help find it.

The system will be offered as standard equipment for the first year on higher grades of vehicle, or as a £395 option on the rest of the Vauxhall range, with the goal of it becoming standard fitment on  every model by the start of 2017. In the short term though, while a lapsed subscription at the end of the first year could be renewed at any time, if Onstar wasn't selected as an option where it's not standard (See table, below), it can't be retro-fitted to that vehicle in the future.

Vauxhall has, however, gone back on managing director Tim Tozer's initial promise that Onstar would be standard on all versions of the new Astra, citing a desire to get the right entry pricing point for the car as the reason for the lowest Design trim level not being fitted with the system when it launches in October.

The fleet manager portal will allow companies to access key information on mileage, fuel efficiency and dashboard warning lights for free for five years. It will 'ping' the car once a month to gather the data, rather than working in real time, although Vauxhall will talk to fleets on an individual basis if they would like to pay for more regular data. There are 300 different elements of the car's diagnostic data that could also be built in.

"If you speak to most fleet operators, the key information they want is mileage," said Vauxhall fleet boss James Taylor. "But we can do bespoke pricing for bespoke solutions and data requirements.

We could go as far as to give an alert if an airbag goes off, or more frequent data as a bespoke level of information." The company can also tailor the system to dovetail with the likes of roadside assistance companies, if a fleet has its own agreement with RAC rather than The AA, Vauxhall's chosen supplier, for example.

Taylor predicts it will be a fairly slow ramp-up, as Onstar is only offered initially on the higher trim levels, which will more likely be user-choosers rather than the job-need cars, and it will be towards the end of 2016 before significant numbers are using Onstar.

Onstar's European operation is being run from Vauxhall's headquarters in Luton, where operators will field calls 24/7 in eight languages - specified at the point of delivery - from owners in 13 countries.
The system has seven million users across the US, China, Canada and Mexico, and has completed more than 900 million customer interactions.

Vauxhall is still finalising the renewal pricing when the initial subscription expires at the end of the first year, but without wi-fi and including roadside assistance the cost is likely to be £79 per year.

The wi-fi will be offered in the same way as phone contracts, with varied pricing depending on data use, and can be activated for a month at a time if required.

Vauxhall is also exploring how to roll Onstar into three-year finance packages. The target, the firm says, will be to retain 70% of users, although Vauxhall admits the traditional British reserved attitude of not wanting to trouble anybody by hitting the button to call an operator could be a barrier.

There is also the possibility of reduced insurance premiums with Onstar, as the system has the ability to prevent a car from being restarted once it has been reported stolen, with Vauxhall revealing it could be pushing for reduced insurance premium for its vehicles later this year as a result. In the US, the system can actually bring a car to a halt, but the company blames the predominance of manual transmissions, rather than the automatics that dominate in the US, as a reason why that won't work here.

For now at least, Onstar will only be offered with the car range, not on any light commercial vehicles, as the Combo, Vivaro and Movano models are all built under partnership agreements with other manufacturers.