General Motors isn’t the dominant force it once was in the auto industry — back in the 1950s, it held half the US market, selling one of every two cars bought by consumers.
But GM has recovered nicely from the financial crisis, when it was bailed out by the federal government and declared bankruptcy.
With less debt, more cash, and a solid lineup of cars and trucks, the General is well positioned to hold on to the 17-18% market share it currently enjoys.
But there’s one area in which GM is setting an impressive example for the rest of the industry, and that’s with in-vehicle technology. Last year, GM took the plunge on high-speed connectivity, committing to installing 4G LTE in all of its cars and trucks.
GM has also enabled most of its new vehicles to use Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
I test out a lot of cars, and at the moment, GM’s infotainment setup is the most effective. 4G LTE is a game-changer for anyone who has a family, like me, with a bunch of kids all using their devices in the car. The rolling WiFi hotspot that is now every new GM vehicle means that Minecraft can be played and Spotify can be savoured, with zero hassles and no onerous data charges from your wireless carrier.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You also have good old SiriusXM and excellent navigation assisted by OnStar, GM’s longtime system that allows you to push a blue button to obtain directions from an actual human operator, a much more seamless process than punching addresses info into a typical interface. Pandora is built into the app suite on new GM vehicles. And there are diagnostics and customisation features that make driving far less challenging.
Connecting a smartphone of other device with Bluetooth is also a piece of cake — easier on a GM vehicle these days than on any other.
Obviously, nobody in the auto industry has an incompetent infotainment set-up. Tesla, for example, has routed nearly everything through a massive center touchscreen and frequently releases software updates that make its cars seem almost new. And high-performance brands, including Ferrari, McLaren, and Lamborghini, are less interested in infortainment than they are in driving pleasure.
That said, GM’s systems work so well, at least in my experience, that the company can make reasonable claims to being the best in the business.
There’s definitely pressure to get this type of tech right. Consumer Reports has noted that infotainment systems can be a real sticking point when it comes to consumer satisfaction with their cars. And it goes without saying that too much infotainment is a distraction from driving and a definite safety issue.
In everything from relatively inexpensive starter vehicles such as the Chevy Trax to supercars like the Corvette Z06, GM is showing off its infotainment chops. Even the CUE system, found on Cadillacs, has been improving, after less-then-enthusiastic feedback when it launched a few years back.
For me, an infotainment system is all about comfort level. BMW’s iDrive, long unloved, has gotten better but is still complicated to use. Tesla’s touchscreen is great, but it’s also a really big tablet, in effect, and it encourages you to interact with it that way. Audi’s system is superb, especially for navigation, but you don’t get the same brisk connectivity that you do with GM.
In a Chevy, Buick, GMC, or Cadillac, it also just meshes together. Apple CarPlay imports all the most essential aspects of you phone, but doesn’t lock you out of the native applications in the vehicle. And for me, there’s nothing better than starting out on a trip, needed some directions, and just punching that OnStar button to get them, with hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
There have been plenty of times when GM hasn’t always provided leadership in the industry. The ignition-switch recall that started last year is case study in the “Old GM” thinking that current CEO Mary Barra is trying to eliminate. It cost the company billions, involved over 100 deaths, and stalled GM’s recovery from the Great Recession and the Detroit meltdown.
But on the in-car technology front, GM is now leading — and leading well.