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OnStar Corporation is a subsidiary of General Motors that provides subscription-based communications, in-vehicle security, hands free calling, turn-by-turn navigation, and remote diagnostics systems throughout the United States and Canada. OnStar services are only available currently on vehicles manufactured by General Motors. The service is available for all vehicles that have the factory-installed OnStar hardware. OnStar is known as ChevyStar in Latin American markets. The service currently has more than five million subscribers.<ref>[1]</ref>


The OnStar service relies on CDMA mobile phone voice and data communication, primarily via Verizon Wireless in the United States and Bell Mobility in Canada, as well as location information using GPS technology. Drivers and passengers can use its audio interface to contact OnStar representatives for emergency services, vehicle diagnostics and directions. OnStar equipped vehicles with an active subscription will also contact representatives, based out of Pontiac, Michigan; Charlotte, North Carolina; Makati, Philippines; and Oshawa, Ontario in the event of a collision where the airbags are deployed. Newer models will contact OnStar in any type of collision whether airbags deploy or not. This new service is called Advanced Automatic Crash Response (AACR) and is designed to assist emergency response efforts.

When a driver presses the Red OnStar Emergency button or Blue OnStar button, current vehicle data and the user's GPS location are immediately gathered. This information is then sent to OnStar. OnStar Emergency calls are routed to the OnStar Center with highest priority. Three centers exist to receive emergency calls: Pontiac, Michigan; Charlotte, North Carolina and Ontario Canada; and all centers are open 24 hours a day.

Starting 2009, General Motors will equip some new vehicles with Stolen Vehicle Slowdown.<ref>"OnStar Could Thwart Car Thieves" The Auto Writer, Cary, NC, October 10, 2007. Retrieved September 7, 2008. </ref> This allows police to remotely slow down the vehicle. The service is also expected to help reduce the risk of property damage, serious injuries or fatalities resulting from high-speed pursuits of stolen vehicles. Customers may opt out of that function.<ref>"Device can remotely halt auto chases" Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY, 2007-10-09</ref>

Verizon Wireless currently offers the "Nationwide Plan with OnStar," which is a bundle plan between Verizon Wireless service and OnStar service.<ref>Verizon's websiteTemplate:Dead link</ref> With this plan, the Verizon Wireless phone is the "primary line" and the OnStar device is the "secondary line." This plan is actually based around the "Family SharePlan," with rates starting at $69.99 USD for 700 minutes.<ref>Verizon's websiteTemplate:Dead link</ref>


OnStar was formed in 1995 as a collaboration between GM, Electronic Data Systems and Hughes Electronics Corporation. Each of the founding companies brought a specific area of expertise to the enterprise: GM brought vehicle design and integration and a distribution system of millions of vehicles, EDS brought much of the systems development and information management and customer service technologies, while Hughes contributed communications and satellite technology and automotive electronics.

In 1996, then GM North America Operations President Rick Wagoner officially launched OnStar at the Chicago Auto Show. OnStar delivered its first product and service to the market in 11 months, in the fall of 1996 for model year 1997 Cadillac DeVille, Seville and Eldorado models. For a short time, OnStar service was available on vehicles produced by Acura, Audi, Subaru, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen through a licensing agreement.

In April 2006, GM notified approximately 500,000 of their OnStar customers who had analog service that their service would be terminated effective December 31, 2007, because starting February 18, 2008 the FCC would no longer require US cell phone systems to operate in analog mode. Customers who purchased a prepaid, non-refundable, non-transferable 1-year OnStar Safe & Sound subscription were scheduled to receive an equipment upgrade. If the vehicle is from the 2003, 2004, or 2005 model year, an adapter costing approximately $200 (includes a one year subscription) can be installed at the customer's expense. If it is older, it will simply no longer be usable.<ref>"OnStar Goes Digital, GM to Drop 500,000 Subscribers." Benton, Joe April 10, 2007. Retrieved May 1, 2007</ref> A law firm in Pennsylvania representing some of the affected customers sought to have a class certified for a class action lawsuit for damages claimed in the cancellation of OnStar service.<ref>"Class action sought for OnStar suit." Times-Leader, Pennsylvania, May 1, 2007. Retrieved May 1, 2007. </ref>


OnStar advocates tout it as an essential safety tool. GM commercials have compared it to seatbelts and airbags, as the next major technology for safe driving. The benefits, they say, include its ability to aid police in tracking down stolen vehicles; contacting emergency medical services in case of an accident (should the driver request this or be non-responsive); notifying drivers of potentially dangerous mechanical problems; emails are sent to owners that give a diagnostics of their vehicle every month if subscribed to; and unlocking doors for drivers (after verifying authorization over the phone) should their keys be misplaced or locked inside their car. OnStar's basic subscription also includes Roadside assistance, as well HFC (Hands Free Calling) which is integrated into the OnStar system and operates in the same way as a regular cell phone does except that it is operated through voice recognition. Automatic Crash Response allows emergency advisors to provide emergency medical services (EMS) with additional crash information such as rollover status, direction of impact, which airbags have deployed (front, side etc,) and the Delta V-Force which is a medical measure of the intensity of an impact. All this information allows EMS to respond to the crash with appropriate equipment.

Advertising campaign

In 2002, GM produced a series of Batman OnStar commercials that featured Batman (using the Batmobile and props from the 1989 film) using the service to call people, access his mail, navigate to certain locations, and to unlock the Batmobile. These were discontinued with radio commercials.

GM promoted the service with radio commercials demonstrating how it would work. It provided the recording of someone interacting with OnStar in various scenarios designed to show its utility. The commercials stated that these were recordings of actual instances of customers using the services, and gave the date on which they occurred.

Privacy issues

Critics raise questions about whether police or others could make use of OnStar's tracking, whether legally or illegally, for surveillance or stalking. Privacy advocates worry that innocent citizens may be hassled by the authorities due to false alarms.

"The Truth About Cars" wrote that "OnStar's computer knows where you were, when you were there, and how fast you went. It knows if and when you applied the brakes, if and when the air bags deployed, and what speed you were going at the time. It knows if and when your car was serviced. OnStar operators can determine if you have a passenger in the front seat (airbag detection). ... under certain conditions, OnStar can switch on your GM car's microphone remotely and record any and all sounds within the vehicle (i.e. conversations)."<ref>OnStar: Big Brother’s Eye in the Sky. Jonathan I. Locker, February 14, 2008</ref>

Concerns have also been raised about what could be done with the data collected and stored by a vehicle's MVEDR, which is analogous to the "black box" recorder on airplanes, although an MVEDR is not as sophisticated and does not currently function as a digital audio recorder. For example, privacy advocates worry that auto dealers could use data to suggest that the user engaged in reckless driving and therefore violated the terms of the vehicle’s warranty, or insurance companies could use said data as the basis for denying claims.

Voice-monitoring capability is marketed as OnStar Hands-Free Calling.<ref>OnStar's website</ref> The use of this type of capability by law enforcement is subject to legal debate and some technical impediments.<ref>Refuse and</ref> OnStar maintains that it is unable to "listen to, view, or record the content of calls".<ref>OnStar's privacy policy</ref> However, a 2003 lawsuit revealed that systems such as OnStar can be used for eavesdropping on passenger conversations.<ref>Court to FBI: No spying on in-car computers</ref>


GM is currently deploying OnStar Generation 8 hardware that includes enhanced services and diagnostics. OnStar hardware is currently manufactured by Continental AG and LG Electronics, although early models were made by Hughes for Gen 1, Delphi, for Gen 2 and Motorola for Gen 4 to Gen 6.


The Gen 1 to Gen 4 models were analog. All were for Class 2 bus. Gen 5 models were a transition period. Some Gen 5 models actually contained both analog and digital cellular phone modules. Also, there were both Class 2 and CAN bus models.


The Gen 6 and up models are CDMA digital. Some were Class 2 bus and some were CAN (Controller Area Network) bus.


Some Gen 5 and Gen 6 models were compatible with each other providing some upgrades to some customers to Digital. FDMA cellular was turned off in Feb, 2008. Customers that had the Gen 1 through Gen 4 models were unable to upgrade to the Digital Gen 6.

No compatibility in Gen 1 and 4 with mother models

Some compatibility with Gen 2 and Gen 2.6 (Delphi TCU and Motorola cellular transceiver).

In pop culture

  • In the season finale of the 2007 show Burn Notice a covert government intelligence agency hijacks the GM OnStar system in the car driven by the main character Michael Westen, issuing him directions to a rendezvous.
  • In the movie Malibu's Most Wanted, California governor candidate Bill Gluckman uses OnStar to find the location of his son, Brad Gluckman.
  • On Eminem's 2009 album Relapse, OnStar is mentioned in the skit "Tonya" and the following song "Same Song and Dance". It mentions how the aforementioned girl's OnStar system is broken.
  • In the NCIS second season episode "Chained," Special Agent Tony DiNozzo uses a specially designed version of OnStar while undercover as an escaped prisoner. This program wasn't the real OnStar system and was actually being run by Abby to keep track of the whereabouts of Tony and the man he was with, who was the suspect that NCIS agents wanted. Though Tony intended to use the "OnStar" system to make a call, a subsequent auto accident heard by Abby allowed her to quickly alert Gibbs and the rest of the team to Tony's location.
  • In the NCIS first season episode, "The Good Samaritan," Gibbs uses the real OnStar system to track a suspect. An error in the episode is that the suspect was not driving a General Motors vehicle, so it actually wouldn't have been equipped with OnStar.

See also

External links

General Motors Co.

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