Millions of GM vehicles in the United States just received a wireless update to their infotainment software. This achievement is impressive in itself. It’s only possible because GM included OnStar 4G LTE WiFi in nearly all of its 2017 vehicles. But the purpose of the update was to add the GM Marketplace application. Per GM, Marketplace “allows drivers to browse deals and place orders through an in-dash touchscreen with several major brands such as Starbucks Corp., TGI Friday’s, Priceline.com and Dunkin’ Donuts Inc.” In other words, drivers will be able to do things like order coffee and pay for gas before they arrive, making errands significantly more convenient.
GM decided to partner with businesses that makes sense for users. In North America, coffee is part of 80% of commutes (I made that figure up), so partnering with Starbucks makes sense. And allowing people to complete small errands without exiting their vehicle makes sense in a world obsessed with convenience… and commuting: “The average American spends 46 minutes per day on the road driving. Leveraging connectivity and our unique data capabilities, we have an opportunity to make every trip more productive and give our customers time back,” said Santiago Chamorro, vice president for Global Connected Customer Experience, GM.
The ability to order Tim Horton’s in your car would shorten the 7:50 drive-through line, and thrust GM into the rarefied Canadian air previously reserved for Alexander Graham Bell and Wayne Gretzky. Well, that’s if we can ignore the overwhelming safety concerns.
Ostensibly, adding more reasons for drivers to stare at a screen instead of the road concerns safety advocates. Each year, the “infotainment” screens in cars get bigger. In a Tesla, drivers control all functions ancillary to driving on a center-mounted touchscreen. It has no knobs or buttons. Without any tactile differentiation, you can’t just reach for a familiar control. While that technology becomes normalised, the average driver insists that it’s no problem and that he is capable of multitasking.
However, I’ve met the average driver. Let me assure you, he’s incapable of changing the radio station while remaining in the center of his lane. Consequently, asking him to order a soy milk latte with an espresso shot would be like asking a straight-jacketed Houdini to file your taxes as he drowns in a glass box. Although, in that analogy, the only person in danger is Houdini, instead of the countless drivers and pedestrians around him.
Within ten years, ordering coffee may be one of the least complicated tasks you can do in your car. That’s because self-driving vehicles are about to take over the roads. GM has partnered with Cruise Automation to make sure that their autonomous vehicles are among the first. Their current prototypes have already demonstrated complete autonomy in closed environments. Before long, they’ll be heading out on the open road. Then, their former drivers will be free to do whatever they like during their morning commute.
GM Marketplace is not yet available in Canada. So, you’ll still have to sit in the drive-through and yell your order over the rearward diesel rumble like a caveman. But you can content yourself with WiFi, wireless charging, Bose Audio, automatic high beams, automatic braking, automatic parking, and Surround Vision for the time being.