DETROIT – Parked outside General Motors’ world headquarters at the Renaissance Center, we push the blue OnStar button and ask for direction back to the Ward’s offices 15 miles (24.1 km) away.
Some 60 seconds later, we’re on the road with a friendly OnStar voice telling us to make a slight turn onto Jefferson Avenue West as the first of a full slate of turn-by-turn directions downloaded to the vehicle.
It’s an exercise we’ve done many times over years of testing GM vehicles, only this time we’re not in a GM vehicle. This time, we’re behind the wheel of a ’10 Ford F-150 pickup.
Arriving now at BestBuy stores across the nation, OnStar FMV, or For My Vehicle, takes the safety, security and convenience power of GM’s telematics service to the masses.
We like to call it, in short, OnStar Lite. OnStar President Linda Marshall is expected to discuss the new aftermarket device in her speech today at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, MI.
It’s not that OnStar does not perform as billed in Ford’s big pickup. We ask for directions, and the system complies most of the time. However, one editor requested a route to the nearest McDonald’s and ended up in a subdivision.
The hands-free calling also works trouble-free, just like the factory-installed system, and could emerge as the FMV system’s key selling point as federal regulators ramp-up efforts to stamp out hand-held cell phone use while driving.
Our concerns lie mainly in two areas.
First, the competency and final fit-and-finish of the installation work is questionable. Admittedly, we might be spoiled from using the service in so many GM vehicles, where after more than a decade its seamless appearance has grown as natural to our eyes as a gold bow-tie on the grille.
But in the F-150, unsightly black wiring is exposed between the headliner and rear-view mirror – a necessary aftermarket evil, we guess. But additional wiring and a black plate from the F-150’s factory-installed compass hangs beside the mirror.
Another wire creeps out of the headliner to a microphone near the overhead lights, albeit in a much less intrusive manner. But a nearby smudge discolors the headliner, clearly the victim of the installer’s dirty fingers.
Ward’s editors often make exceptions for minor short-comings on pre-production models, and then point out instances when fixes aren’t made for the retail version.
However, OnStar FMV costs $299 for the unit and another $75 for installation. That’s not cheap. And if our F-150 serves as any indication of the installation’s fit and finish, then buyer beware, we say.
OnStar FMV also does not silence the audio system before it prepares to give the next navigation command, much like any other aftermarket navigation device. It does have a volume control, and in the F-150 commands are clear, even with the windows down at highway speed.
But those folks who like to rock out while they drive may have an issue.
OnStar FMV owners will not receive items such as the nifty monthly diagnostic reports as part of their $199 annual subscription, and the accident sensing system is not as robust as it would be in a GM vehicle.
That’s because FMV is not integrated into the vehicle architecture, which makes it capable of detecting vehicle systems and crash severity and impact location. But it’s still sophisticated enough to tell the difference between a jaw-jarring pothole and a minor fender-bender.
In the event of a crash, both systems would provide the same quick adviser response to check on passengers and help get the emergency personnel to the scene.
So there’s a lot to like about OnStar FMV, if the installation can be cleaner. With 6 million GM drivers subscribing to the factory-installed system, clearly people see value in having such technology on board.