GM Links With Google’s Android to Manage the Chevy Volt

Google and General Motors plan to connect the automaker’s in-vehicle communications system, OnStar, with phones running on Google’s Android operating system, GM announced early Tuesday. It all starts with a beefed-up mobile app for the Chevy Volt, an extended-range electric vehicle scheduled to roll out later this year.

Back in January, GM announced that the Volt would roll out equipped for remote control of certain vehicle functions via BlackBerry Storm, iPhone or Droid smartphones. According to the automaker’s release Tuesday, a 2.0 version version of the app for Android phones will incorporate new location-based services using Google technology.

Word of this new partnership between GM and Google comes on the heels of Ford and Microsoft announcing plans to put their longstanding alliance (Microsoft developed Ford’s Sync communication system) to work on smart charging for electric vehicles. Ford plans to use Microsoft’s Hohm tool to minimize energy costs for drivers of upcoming electric Ford models, and to help limit strain on the power grid for utilities.

More details about how GM aims to deploy Google’s technology will come out this week in a demo at the Google I/O conference in San Francisco. But the automaker says it has added a new navigation tool to the existing Volt mobile app built for Android phones. The tool will use Google’s voice search, provide vehicle tracking and access to Google Maps, and allow Volt owners to send destination info from their Android phone to their car’s OnStar navigation system for turn-by-turn directions.

OnStar President Chris Preuss commented in a statement today that the Volt app is only a first step in a larger effort to expand OnStar beyond safety and security services. The relationship with Google, he said, “is an example of how we’re evolving our leadership position in connected vehicle technology,” adding, “What we’re talking about today is only the beginning.”

When the Volt launches, version 1.0 of the mobile app will include functions specific to needs anticipated for new electric vehicle drivers. Through their phones, early adopters of the Volt will be able to schedule battery charge times, view whether or not the vehicle is plugged in, check voltage at a charger, get text notifications of interruption or completion of a battery charge and view miles per gallon, electric miles and miles driven — cumulatively and for the last trip (the Volt has a small gas engine that kicks in when the battery charge drops below a set threshold).

For GM, the so-called OnStar Mobile Application could be a key part of marketing the vehicle to gadget-minded consumers. The automaker has said that with this app, the Volt “showcases technology beyond the battery,” something GM needs to do to go beyond niche markets for a $40,000 plug-in sedan. As Andrew Farah, vehicle chief engineer for the Chevy Volt, has put it, “Our whole goal here is to put together a great vehicle for customers, not just a battery on wheels.”

Could the Google/Android link lead to a connection between Google’s energy management tool PowerMeter and GM’s Chevy Volt? At our Green:Net conference, when we asked Google’s Ed Lu if Google had plans to connect PowerMeter with electric vehicle charging (see video around minute 12), he said Google has “a lot of plans in a lot of areas” that he couldn’t yet talk about.

Photo courtesy of General Motors

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