PhotoAre you willing to spend $20 a month to turn your car into a rolling hotspot and mobile communications and entertainment center? General Motors CEO Dan Akerson is hoping you are.

Akerson's optimism is understandable. He was, after all, a telecommunications executive before coming to GM in 2010 and he has been turning up the heat on GM's engineers to boost the connectivity of the company's cars. 

GM built an early lead in the telecom business with its OnStar, a relatively primitive 2G tool that provides safety, diagnostic and directional services to its 6 million subscribers.

Now, Akerson wants to see OnStar morphed into a 4G LTE service that provides all kinds of mobile telecom services, including some that nobody's thought of yet.

LTE is fourth-generation high-speed wireless service being rolled out by AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile. It makes it possible to stream video and music while also providing enhanced GPS, voice and text services. Oh, and advertising as well.

Advertising opportunities

If you think about it, the opportunities for advertising to people in their cars can get pretty exciting, if you're into that kind of thing. Instead of hiring an out-of-work English major to stand outside your business spinning a sign around, you could create an ad that would, to paraphrase an old AT&T ad, reach out and grab someone.

"Hey, looking for a great pedicure? Turn right now!"  Or something like that. We're not sure this is what Akerson has in mind but something along those lines will not doubt be haranguing tomorrow's drivers. 

His thinking seems to be of the "If you built it, they will come" school. Or as he put it in a Bloomberg interview: “The bigger the pipe, the more you’re rewarded into the future.”

“So, when we look at what we can do with a 4G pipe into a car, you can change the business model almost entirely. You may be able to have a real revenue-generating opportunity,” Akerson said.

GM is not the only company traveling down this road but not everyone is in the same lane. Ford is concentrating on providing an infrastructure that will connect its cars to the Internet through a user's smartphone while Akerson seems to want the car itself to provide the processing power of a smatphone. In effect, the car will be a big smartphone with wheels.

The thinking is that younger drivers have grown up staring endlessly at screens and don't want to be locked in a hurtling pile of metal with nothing to play with but the radio.

The days of hanging your head out the window to listen to the burble of your V-6 engine and straight-through stainless steel exhaust are pretty much history, it appears.


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