GM cars to read e-mail

Busy execs looking to shave a few minutes off their day will soon be able to have their e-mail read to them by their car as they commute to work.

General Motors Corp. has revealed its next major step in deploying telematics, in-vehicle computer and Internet services, across its many vehicle brands. The first version, the Cadillac Infotainment System, will be installed in Seville and Deville 2001 models.

The integrated PC system will continue to be rolled out in stages with a target of 30 GM makes and models all offering the same access to e-mail and Internet information services, using speech technology, by the end of next year, according to Mark Hogan, president of e-GM.

Hogan said the systems will have the same look and feel in all brands as a way of insuring safety.

The Cadillac system will read e-mail while the car is in motion and will allow for viewing on an in-dash screen when the vehicle is stopped. Also included in the system is an infrared port for downloading e-mail to a personal digital assistant as well as a compact flash slot. The compact flash, which is about half the size of a PC card, is now being used for smart cards, hard drives, as well as memory devices for storing and transferring files.

Hogan said GM is also in the process of developing business applications for the telematics system for use in sales force automation applications, fleet management, and the rental car market.

“Our intention is to architect this system to be open so that many types of applications can be developed,” Hogan said

Access to e-mail while on the road may appeal to many mobile workers who spend a great deal of time in their cars.

“It’s fantastic if you can get your mail while moving rather than stopping the car in the parking lot. It is especially useful in a town like Los Angeles, where you are always in the car,” said Ginny Povall, a specialist with The Kooper Group, an employee benefit consulting firm based in New York.

Hogan emphasized safety concerns at the announcement and reiterated that the hands-free, eyes-free interface for access to any service will reduce driver distractions.

One analyst believes GM will seek to satisfy safety concerns by gaining endorsements from a major consumer advocacy group.

“This could be a big incremental revenue opportunity, and GM will make certain they have all of their bases covered when it comes to safety issues. There will be a third-party endorsement from a safety organization that will say ‘We think it is appropriate for use,'” said Adam J. Weiner, senior auto analyst at Gomez Advisors, in Lincoln, Mass.

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