How Did We Ever Survive Without Onstar?

Jeremy McCollum
3 min read
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Last Saturday night I was unfortunate enough to be stuck at home sick in front of the television. The program that came on around 6 o’clock made me more nauseous than any amount of flu that could have been in my system. It was General Motor’s half hour overly-dramatic infomercial disguised as a real stories documentary called “Helping Hands.” It was narrated by John Tesh, the former co host of “Entertainment Tonight” and to the casual observer, the program seemed like any other real life documentary program about the tragedy car accidents. But after watching the half hour “documercial” it was clear that GM had dropped some serious coin to put this primetime weekend commercial on the WB. The constant plugs for OnStar and GM vehicles was annoying enough to make any Detroit auto devotee start driving a Honda.

OnStar is a wireless device that new GM vehicles have installed at the factory to provide “safety, security, and convenience services.” Subscribers pay a monthly fee to have their car monitored by satellite at all times. In the case of an accident, OnStar can quickly notify police and rescue, pinpoint your vehicle using GPS and communicate with you inside your vehicle if you happen to be trapped.

What is even creepier and what sets OnStar apart from a plain old cellphone is that OnStar can communicate with your vehicle’s computer and send you email or cellphone text warnings when you need to take your car (to the GM dealer service garage of corse) in for a oil change, tire rotation, engine tuneup, brake job, tranny service or any other maintenance they feel you need. Apparently, OnStar can even run remote engine diagnostics! OnStar can also track your car if your car is stolen, can unlock your doors if you get locked out (providing you don’t lock your cellphone in the car and you have their number handy), can provide you with directions, can allow you to make “hands free” cellphone calls, etc.

What annoyed me about the program is how they infer that you cannot be safe in a car unless you have OnStar. The same mentality that has made the majority of families in the US feel like that have to drive a huge SUV in order to be safe. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t need someone telling me when I need to change my oil and I certainly don’t want someone in control of my door locks and definitely not my engine’s computer! But maybe OnStar is a good feature for the inept lazy Americans that we are becoming. And with 3 million subscribers already, it seems OnStar is doing a good job convincing us that we can’t live without it.

This documercial was almost as disgusting as last year’s Oprah Winfrey infomercial disguised as a talk show… The season premiere in which she gave free GM sedans to every audience member.

Her “good deed” made front-page news in USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, both Detroit papers, and the New York Daily News. And tons of TV news. I’m sure she didn’t pay one penny for these cars and even if she did, she certainly made her money back ten-fold in self-promotion.

Now that’s advertising!

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