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From roadside assistance and carjack halting to smart charging for plug-in vehicles — that’s the leap General Motors aims to make with its OnStar system. The communication system will let owners of the upcoming Chevy Volt program charge vehicles at different times to take advantage of […]

From roadside assistance and carjack halting to smart charging for plug-in vehicles — that’s the leap General Motors aims to make with its OnStar system. The communication system will let owners of the upcoming Chevy Volt program charge vehicles at different times to take advantage of off-peak rates, and could eventually make other equipment such as smart meters unnecessary by facilitating data flow with utilities. With the Volt slated to launch at the end of next year, that general game plan is now being refined and tested at the OnStar EV Lab in Detroit, where CNET’s Martin LaMonica visited yesterday and snagged some details.

In a time when GM has been cutting brands to get out of the red, OnStar offers a bright spot with a history of quick time to market and rapid deployment of innovative technology as a standard feature, as Celeste has noted over on GigaOM Pro (subscription required). That experience will come in handy in the final months of testing and refinement for the first-gen Chevy Volt. At this point, LaMonica reports, the EV Lab has the OnStar system, which debuted in 1995, running in 19 Chevy Volts for testing, with 20 different modules on the car feeding data back to GM engineers on things like the battery’s charge, temperature and liquid-cooling system performance.

All of this data — and OnStar, as the tool for accessing it — is critical at this stage of the Volt’s development, GM executives said, because only a limited amount of information has been gathered in the past about battery performance in cars like the extended-range electric Chevy Volt. Once these cars get out of the lab and onto the road with real customers, the communication system will have another important role to play: helping GM take advantage of the fast-growing market for smartphone applications, which has revolutionized the mobile market in the last year and is now moving at high speed into the automotive space.

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