The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

24 December 2007

The sounds of silence

Gwendolyn's manual devotes more than eleven pages to something called the "Infiniti Communicator," which appears to be a response to General Motors' famed OnStar service. The system, which I don't actually have, combines GPS, a cell phone, and a "response center." And apparently it was a colossal flop [link goes to Microsoft Word document]:

Partnering with Motorola, AT&T Wireless and ATX Technologies, Infiniti Communicator was offered in 1999 and 2000 on certain U.S. models. The system offered wireless communication, 24-hour emergency service, airbag deployment detection in case of an accident and remote unlocking capabilities. Because of the similarity in features offered, it was touted as the only real competition to OnStar.

The system looked great on paper, but actually was ill conceived based on a business model that did not justify itself. The agreement to have nationwide roaming analog airtime was not only a huge task to undertake but also was extremely expensive. The plan concentrated on the revenue generation and not the long-term effects. Essentially, the companies felt that as more consumers signed up for the service, the more revenue the companies will earn. Beyond that, nothing else was considered. But what all failed to realize was that as more customers signed on, more infrastructure and support for the customers were needed.

Secondly, there was no planning or support at the dealer level. When questioned about the service most dealers were ill informed and in some cases didnít know the service was offered. This in turn led potential customers to feel that if the dealer body couldnít give the specifics about the service, they would not get service when an emergency occurred. This caused the public to question the dealer body, asking why should they purchase a system and service that offers the same basic services as their cell phones. Another point was that the dealer body did not know how to market the service. Nor could the dealer service the product, which in turn hindered the selling of the product. Another instance is in the cost of the service, which initially was $1000 for the hardware only. It was later cut in half to $500. Due to the ill informed dealer network and cost, only approximately 5% of buyers of 1999 and 2000 model Q45 and I30 purchased the system.

The complete package, including four years of service (matching the factory four-year warranty), was offered at $1599. And it was apparently well-integrated into the vehicle: the implementation included a hands-free microphone mounted on the ceiling, a "Mayday" emergency call button, and send/end and volume controls mounted on the steering wheel.

When I read about it in the manual last year, I contemplated for about thirty seconds the possibility of retrofitting the hardware, but decided against it. And it's probably just as well, since the cell-phone aspect of it will be dead shortly anyway:

The network that launched the U.S. wireless industry with brick-sized — and brick-heavy — cell phones 24 years ago will switch off in most of the country next year, leaving a surprising number of users in the lurch.

Older OnStar systems for cars, home alarms and up to a million cell phones will lose service starting in February under a 2002 federal decision that allows carriers to switch the spectrum over from analog to digital technologies, which would use it more efficiently.

Oh, well. I just put this out there in case there's someone with a turn-of-the-century Infiniti with an inexplicable NO SERVICE warning light on the dash.

Posted at 1:22 PM to Driver's Seat