General Motors embarks on ‘something different' for infotainment

WARREN, Mich. — Like many of its competitors, General Motors Co. (GM) has adopted infotainment and telematics as one of its technical pillars. The company is working to roll out a pair of branded infotainment hubs — MyLink for Chevrolet brands and IntelliLink for Buick and GMC brands — over the next 18 months on 18 nameplates globally. The core goal is to bring connected infotainment choices into the vehicle, accommodate customers’ cellphones by enabling them to make calls and listen to music hands free, and equip vehicles with voice recognition technology.

“Our whole purpose here is to accommodate these devices and do it as safely and securely as possible,” Kathleen McMahon, program manager of connected infotainment at General Motors, told RCR Wireless News. “What my position was created for is to provide the necessary focus to bring all the different pieces of a strategy like connected infotainment together so that the vehicles launch with all the right stuff,” she said, reflecting on her exactly one-year mark at the job during this interview. "It’s one thing in the past to just put a radio inside the vehicle but now obviously the whole point of being connected is that you have to be able to connect up to cellphones and smartphones and you have to have websites to update the vehicle and to tell the customer what phones you support,” she said. "So that’s kind of different for the automotive industry. We have some experience with that with OnStar, but still getting all those parts to come together at the same time is not a normal operation within the automotive industry.” McMahon’s job is to shepherd all of that under a more organized framework. “It isn’t the case that perhaps things were fragmented, it’s the case that is a kind of functionality that wasn’t really there before with the exception of OnStar. And in the OnStar case it’s its own business unit as part GM. So in our case we’re sort of in the mainstream vehicle operations, but we’re doing something different,” she said. "I think the whole idea of doing connected infotainment is responding to the way the market has changed so much with how people use smartphones for everything today,” McMahon added. "People are using them for everything now, as we all know… From a vehicle perspective, unfortunately people will bring the smartphones into the car and they will use them. Phones are not really designed to be used safely in a vehicle, clearly. We need to be able to give our customer a safer accommodation to use the phone. We know they’re going to use it so we what we want to do is make that an experience where they can keep their hands on the wheels and their eyes on the road. And all of the vehicle manufacturers I think are up against that knowing what people are doing anyway.” Even with a growing infotainment team and various other teams that assist on validation, IT, marketing and more, there will always be a challenge to keep up with technology outside the car. "It is difficult to keep up. Traditionally, people keep their cars a really long time. So the challenge for us is to be able to really accommodate the phone well, to have a platform inside the vehicle that is upgradeable,” she said. "Keeping up with that is really the challenge in the automotive space, but we think that we’re putting in a platform that will certainly allow us to be current for quite a few years to come.” McMahon is looking for talented people who understand wireless technology, especially understand the special needs and requirements of in-vehicle technology. “But we’re also really seeking people that are enthusiasts for the new technology, the apps, the smartphones, the wireless technology, all of those things. Because they’re the ones who are really suited to help us figure out what customers want,” she added.

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