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General Motors Middle-East brings OnStar to the UAE via official carrier Etisalat

Gary West, Managing Director, OnStar Middle East Operations and Future Mobility at General Motors Africa and Middle East, declares that autonomous vehicles in the UAE are the key to 2030 Dubai future vision.


ArabWheels was able to secure an exclusive interview with the charismatic General Motors Managing director of Future Mobility at the Dubai International Motor Show, held at the Dubai World Trade Center during which West discussed the future of GM in the region and its strategic approach to electrification and automation. In addition, he highlighted GM’s OnStar exciting services, available to all consumers by mid-2020.

Where do you see the UAE in terms of autonomous vehicles?

In the UAE, especially in Dubai, we are blessed with visionary leadership such as His Highness’s. The vision he is working on is that by 2030, 25% of all trips will be connected, smart, electric and autonomous. To achieve the 25%, all trips, including the metro – which is already autonomous – and public transportation, need to be autonomous. This includes potentially consumers’ vehicles and some government vehicles. Being responsible for future mobility in GM, we have been working with the government here in the UAE to raise awareness around autonomous driving and offer the right education and understandings around it.

From General Motors’ perspective, we focus on two key points: the first is considering what type of technology one is seeing in vehicles already in showrooms today or in the future; the second is considering what type of technology one would see in different use cases. For instance, in the USA, we have a technology called “Super Cruise” available in the Cadillac. It allows the driver to truly experience hands-free driving. Independently, it is the safest technology among its peers, offering hands-free driving on the highway. We are working to develop this type of technology in the Cadillac brand and potentially in all other GM brands. Our “Super Cruise” team in the USA are working on Level 4 and Level 5 of this technology where they might remove the steering wheel and braking pedals.

Currently, we are looking for opportunities to commercialize this technology and get regulatory authorization. In addition, we are working on a use case of ‘robot taxi’, where an autonomous vehicle can take you to your destination.

Dubai might be a good ground to start because of the evolution it has witnessed from buildings, regulation testing that started beginning of 2019, and welcoming new companies in the country. I see it as a good opportunity for the country.

All cars manufacturers are moving in the next ten years to electric and autonomous shared services. So this technology will change your whole business model. Are you prepared to move from selling cars to selling shared cars services?

All of our car brands will always exist. When we start using the autonomous technology especially at its fourth and fifth level, it will be in a dense urban environment not in a suburban environment. If you think about electrification, around 5 million electric vehicles were bought at the end of 2018 against over a billion of combustion vehicles. The EV market started to run properly across the world and some countries are leading because of their regulations. However, it still as a long way to go to move from 5 million to 1 billion, but we have to understand that changes are happening rapidly and not everyone will automatically jump in an autonomous or connected vehicle. The launch of the Corvette C8 shows that people still love big engines, beautiful exhaust sound and the driving experience.

Take a moment and look back on the evolution of technology over the past 100 years. People said the introduction of television will bring the radio to an end, and the introduction of video cassette recording end TV and then Netflix will end TV as well. None of this happened, and the combustion vehicle experience won’t disappear either. Each individual will choose from various means of transportation the one that suits him/her the best. GM will always satisfy both tastes such as the Chevrolet Bolt and the Corvette.

How closely are you working with operators and regulators to bring connectivity for your connected vehicles in order to participate in a thriving smart city?

When you’re bring connectivity into a different region, you have to work very closely not only with regulators but with legal authorities as well such as TRA, Ministry of interior, etc. We have been working very diligently with all authorities for over twenty years and that’s an added value to our expertise.

With regards to testing, we’ve got products placed in the market and the technology is being deployed. We are working now with Etisalat, as official carrier, to bring OnStar to the UAE. We will be launching the OnStar by late 2020. At the moment, our technology runs on a 4G-enabled network and will turn to 5G in later stages.

Can you tell us more about OnStar services in the Middle-East specially the privacy services offered? Will you be offering services similar to the ones available in the USA?

Privacy has been given great importance globally, especially in the last couple of years and here’s how it’s implemented in our technology. From a user interface standpoint, OnStar has very few buttons and one of them allows the driver to disconnect from any particular service that the owner signed up for since it is a subscription based business. For any service you want to subscribe to, you have to sign a terms and conditions agreement. It is very important for us to be very transparent with the driver/owner of the vehicle specially when using data; the driver should know when we are using it and for what reason.

An example of safety is that we don’t track the vehicle unless the driver gives us the authorization. In case of an accident, the driver can either press on the “automatic crash response” button or he doesn’t. The technology is built to identify the trigger points such as airbags and side curtains. So, in case of an accident, and if any of those trigger points are damaged, the car will automatically call our system and send basic information to our advisors such as the car’s location, type, and driver’s identity. This will enable us to talk with the police and lead them to your specific location. Our advisors don’t have access to any data or information unless you press this blue button. So basically whatever you have signed for, you always have full data/information privacy control unless in a case of an accident and you press “automatic crash response” to automatically dial the police for help.

The OnStar service will be launched by mid-2020, but the prices are not finalized yet as it is still a work in progress to make sure we offer the right pricing and packages to our customers. Pricing is subject of change depending on each brand such as Chevrolet, GMC and Cadillac.