Hyundai’s Blue Link Ready to Take on GM’s OnStar

Having been one of the first automakers to roll out USB inputs across its full line, Hyundai is ready to up its telematics game again. This time, it is taking on General Motors’ OnStar with its Blue Link connectivity system.

We got a chance to sit down with Michael Deitz, the national manager for connected car initiatives at Hyundai, and demo the new Blue Link system. Our initial impression was that it was suspiciously similar to OnStar, with its rearview mirror-mounted buttons and ability to send information over the air to the car. Also similar to the GM system is that Blue Link will be a subscription-based service, though new-car buyers will be treated to six free months of the service after purchasing a new Hyundai.

Once calling into the system using the in-car modem, drivers can request information about the car, the weather, or a destination. Unlike OnStar, Blue Link users deal primarily with an automated system, rather than a live representative. That’s not to say there is not a real person behind your request -- for more complex queries (such as point of interest lookups), the automated system is actually backed by a representative doing the searches for the system based off of a recording of your request. Hyundai thought the more automated approach would remove any kind of guilt factor with smaller requests, such as looking for an ATM. However, most simple requests will use voice recognition technology and never use a representative at all.

There are four key pieces to the Blue Link system: navigation, information, entertainment, and vehicle assistance. The navigation function is fairly straight forward -- just request an address or point of interest and turn-by-turn directions will be sent to your car (regardless of whether or not the car is a navigation-equipped model). Blue Link users can also search for points of interest based on name, category, or relative distance. Information includes things such as gas price lookup (it will tell you where the cheapest gas near you is), traffic conditions, and a weather report for your current location. The weather report will also inform you of any weather alerts. We learned of a heat index warning while testing the system in 95-degree weather.

The vehicle assist menu is one of the few times Blue Link users will be connected to a live representative. They can schedule service for you, help you find the nearest Hyundai dealer, and help diagnose that amber check-engine light that just started glowing in the gauge cluster. In fact, the vehicle diagnostic system within Blue Link can evaluate the severity of the check-engine light or something as simple as when the car is due for service. Blue Link also offers safety and security features such as automatic crash notification, connection to emergency services, and road-side assistance.

What separates Blue Link is the entertainment function. These two parts work in tandem with MyHyundai.com, the site where owners can register their cars and track things from contact information, to preferred dealers, to needed service intervals. MyHyundai.com also works as a limited social networking tool: Hyundai owners can friend one another on the website and, using Blue Link, share their current locations with their friends. Meeting Phil for coffee but he forgot to tell you where? No problem -- just to under Blue Link’s entertainment menu and ask for his location; if he’s sharing it with you, it will download to the car and Blue Link will provide turn-by-turn directions. The entertainment menu also allows for voice texting that will send a text message from whatever mobile phone is connected to the car via Bluetooth, and is set up to understand natural speech patterns, not just preset messages.

There are three tiers for Blue Link: Assurance, Essentials, and Guidance. Assurance will be offered as a six-month free trial on every new Hyundai equipped with Blue Link, and includes the aforementioned safety features. The Essentials package builds on Assurance by adding the entertainment functions, vehicle diagnostics, and remote unlocking, vehicle start, and the free mobile application available for iPhone, Android, and Blackberry. Adding onto the Essentials package is the Guidance package, which rolls in the navigation and information services. The Essentials and Guidance packages will come free for three months in Blue Link-equipped cars.

Pricing starts at $79 for a one-year service agreement for Blue Link Assurance, $179 for Essentials, and $279 for Guidance. Longer-term agreements get some savings off of the one-year price. Blue Link will start rolling out on 2012 Hyundai vehicles this summer with the Sonata and the new Veloster, and be available across Hyundai’s entire lineup by the 2015 model year.

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