Saturday, June 23, 2007

GM sued over OnStar change

Thursday, May 10, 2007
GM sued over OnStar change
Sharon Terlep / The Detroit News

A disgruntled Cadillac owner, whose OnStar service will go dead next year as a result of upgrades to General Motors Corp.'s peace-of-mind roadside assistance feature, filed a class-action lawsuit Wednesday against the automaker.

Robert Weaver of Virginia bought a new Cadillac El Dorado in 2002 equipped with GM's OnStar, a much-advertised communication system that links motorists with live operators who can offer driving directions and emergency help.

Weaver is among 1.5 million owners who will be affected when OnStar completes its switch from an analog system to a more current digital network.

While newer GM vehicles are equipped with digital receivers, many older models are not, meaning they will lose OnStar when the analog service shuts down starting next year. Some vehicles made between 2002 and 2004 can be upgraded, but all pre-2002 models will become obsolete.

GM says about 500,000 vehicles have analog systems that can't be upgraded and 1 million have digital-capable systems. A small number of Acura, Audi, Subaru and Volkswagen models are affected.

The switch is a result of a 2002 Federal Communications Commission decision to let cell phone companies shutter their analog networks starting in February. OnStar is carried by Verizon Wireless.

GM has heavily promoted OnStar with commercials featuring dramatic real-life calls between motorists and operators, such as one from a child phoning for help after a car accident.

In the lawsuit, Weaver charges that GM knew it was switching to an all-digital network but continued to sell analog-only systems and failed to inform customers they were to be phased out.

He calls for GM to reimburse all affected customers the $199 cost of the OnStar system along with subscription fees. The suit also seeks to block GM from shutting off service or from charging customers the $15 cost of an upgrade.

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on behalf of Weaver and any affected OnStar customers. Weaver's attorney could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

GM, in a statement, said switching to digital was the only way it could maintain comprehensive coverage in the United States and Canada as cell phone companies cancel their analog service. Nearly 90 percent of OnStar subscribers have vehicles that either have the digital system or can be upgraded, according to GM. For those who don't, GM will provide a year of free OnStar service on any new vehicle leased or purchased by the end of the year.

The company said it has sent letters advising affected customers of their options. In addition, by charging only $15 for the upgrades, GM is covering most the cost, said Bill Ball, OnStar vice president of public policy.

"It's a very frustrating situation for subscribers and for us," he said. "The engineers have done their best to try and provide a solution for as many folks as we're capable of doing."

You can reach Sharon Terlep at (313) 223-4686 or

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