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OnStar Celebrates Its 15th Birthday

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author photo by Jean Halliday

OnStar has come a long way since it debuted exclusively on 1997 model-year Cadillacs.

The General Motors' telematics subsidiary now has 2,000-plus emergency advisors taking live calls from almost 6 million subscribers in the U.S. and Canada.

Those advisors handled over 33,000 calls from subscribers in areas hit hard by Hurricane Irene between August 26 and the 28, Sam Mancuso, chief marketing officer of OnStar told AutoTrader.com. Most were between 75 and 80 miles from home, looking for help with things like safe routes, available gas stations or lodging. In North Carolina, most were 100 miles from home.

OnStar averages 3 million interactions with subscribers every month, with navigation services accounting for 2 million of those, Mancuso said. OnStar has responded to more than a million emergency calls.

Here's another eye-popping stat as OnStar approaches its 15th birthday in service in mid-September: it has handled close to 400 million subscriber connections over the years.

By 1998, OnStar had just 22,000 subscribers. But that exploded to some 150,000 by the end of 1999 and accounted for revenues of $43 million, according to a 2000 University of Virginia case study.

Among OnStar's milestones was the 2004 launch of the Advanced Automatic Crash Notification system, which bowed on the Chevrolet Malibu. The system's sensors automatically call OnStar if the vehicle is involved in a moderate to severe frontal, rear or side-impact collision and provides crash severity information to OnStar's call center advisors.

A couple of years ago OnStar reached the 100,000 mark for crash responses alone. That number now tallies well over 170,000.

In mid-2005, OnStar tallied nearly 4 million subscribers.

Mancuso declined to reveal subscribers' re-up rate, saying only "it's a strong rate that we're happy with."

For the 2011 model year, OnStar is available on 40 GM models. But now you don't need a Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet or GMC model. A month ago, the automaker rolled out a new product called OnStar FMV that can be installed on more than 75 non-GM models.

The after-market system looks like a standard rear-view mirror and costs about $300, plus installation at either Best Buy or a dealer costing between $75 and $100. FMV owners must also pay OnStar's normal monthly service cost, which starts at $18.95 and tops out at $28.90.

OnStar's FMV was awarded the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

The GM unit just started a pilot program, mainly aimed at parents with teenagers. Dubbed Family Link, roughly 10,000 OnStar subscribers will be able to track where their vehicles are via geotracking. The service even has the capability of sending text messages for vehicle locations and offers online tracking on a web site.

Meantime, don't expect a lot of hoopla for OnStar's 15th birthday. "We're not going to make a big bang about it," Mancuso said. "We aren't about focusing on ourselves. We're more about satisfying our customers."

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OnStar Celebrates Its 15th Birthday