GM's OnStar adds real-time stock trading to in-vehicle service

General Motors Corp.'s OnStar division yesterday unveiled plans to add real-time trading and financial market data to its in-vehicle communications service.

Detroit-based GM is teaming with Boston-based Fidelity Investments on the new service, which will be available in two phases. Using voice-activated commands, all OnStar subscribers will have access to computer-read stock quotes and market information as part of GM's nationwide Virtual Advisor launch in April, officials said.

Access to individual Fidelity accounts for wireless stock trading, checking account balances and using other portfolio management features will be available only to Fidelity Investment customers. The service won't be available until later this summer.

"This is just the beginning for OnStar," said Jonathan Gaw, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass. "They're trying to make OnStar a communications system that would bring you everything you would find in an automated telephone system, and they're implementing it in a hands-free environment."

The OnStar in-vehicle communications service combines Global Positioning System (GPS) cellular technology and an around-the-clock service center. It was originally launched by OnStar in Cadillacs in 1996 as an emergency concierge and road service (see story).

Over the years, the service has been augmented to include cellular calling and Virtual Advisor, a Web-based, voice-activated e-mail, news and Web content service that's available only to subscribers in the northeastern U.S. but that GM plans to roll out nationwide in April.

OnStar is available as a factory-installed option on 32 of GM's 54 vehicle lines. About 800,000 drivers subscribe at a cost of $199 or $399 per year, depending on the service level.

Tokyo-based Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. in Aichi, Japan, license GM's telematic, or in-vehicle communications service, on their high-end vehicles. Toyota began shipping the service, which it rebranded as Lexus Link, as a factory-installed option on 2001 Lexus LS 430 models. The OnStar-branded service will ship later this year on Honda's 2002 Acura RL Sedan.

But Geri Lama, a GM spokeswoman, said Lexus Link won't be offering Virtual Advisor or access to Fidelity accounts to its subscribers due to stipulations in the contract between GM and Toyota. Honda customers will have access to the financial service offerings when the 2002 Acura RL ships later this year, she said.

"This will be a luxury product initially," Gaw said, but he added that eventually the telematic service should be available in most vehicles.

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Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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