According to Automotive News, GM will upgrade OnStar software on its vehicles remotely using a wireless connection, without requiring the owners to visit the dealership service department. This may be yet another technology evolution that challenges traditional dealership business will reshape the future of automotive service.
Remote wireless software upgrade makes a lot of sense. Growing use of software in everything from engine management, to passenger safety and comfort, to internet-based content and services will require frequent updates and upgrades. The current software update (reflashing) method that uses a physical connection to the car and a trip to the dealership for every upgrade is not only inefficient, but also potentially problematic if vehicle owners ignore emission or safety related software updates
There is no technology breakthrough in what GM is doing. Remote software update over wireless satellite and cellular connection is fairly common. Mobile phone carriers are doing it all the time without the user being aware of it. Truck OEMs have selectively done this while the truck is in motion.
But OEMs have been reluctant to widely adopt wireless technology and bypass the dealership in the process. Traditionally, dealers insisted on providing all vehicle service, including reflashing, which even when done under warranty, allows them to maintain a relationship with their customers.
The OnStar telematics group is now part of GM's Global Vehicle Engineering, and GM will expand the use of wireless software update technologies. But dealers will likely protest. GM indicated that "quality improvements" will be handled directly from GM, while "customer care issues" will be upgraded through traditional dealer service. I am not sure what the difference is and if the dealers will go along. I expect much back-and-forth between OEMs and the dealers before wireless reflashing is adopted.