GM steers drivers onto the Internet

General Motors will try to steer new car buyers onto the information superhighway by offering Internet access in some vehicles by next year.

General Motors will try to steer new car buyers onto the information superhighway by offering Internet access in some vehicles by next year.

GM is expected to display a Cadillac Seville with voice-activated Web services at the Special Equipment Market Association automotive trade show in Las Vegas this week. The Cadillac will sport a hands-free, voice-activated system that offers drivers the option to check e-mail, download data and casually surf the Web.

According to published reports, the Web system will integrate with GM’s Onstar cellular communications and Global Positioning Satellite technology. Subscribing GM customers will receive around-the-clock emergency services from the Onstar call center and optional perks.

Detroit-based GM recently formed an electronic-GM unit to handle this and other Web initiatives, company officials said. However, the company declined to provide specifics.

“GM already has the technology in place for Web surfing with Onstar, but there are other technology hurdles,” explained analyst James McQuivey at Forrester Research. “GM will need to nail the voice-activation technology before people will use it. The trick is the trade-off between perfect voice recognition at a high cost or limited recognition if the context is limited.”

McQuivey said modifying Web content to handle voice- command searches and increasing cellular phone bandwidth will also need to be addressed for motor-bound Web surfing to take off.

Gordon Hard, senior automotive editor at Consumer Reports in Yonkers, N.Y., questioned the logic of pairing Web surfing with Cadillac car buyers and driving.

“Cadillac is stuck with an older demographic that typically has enough money for a system like Onstar but are not usually early adopters of new technology,” said Hard.

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