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GM gets Siri-ous about voice-activated technology

GM will integrate Apple's voice-activated Siri personal assistant into three of its Chevrolet models.
GM will integrate Apple's voice-activated Siri personal assistant into three of its Chevrolet models.Courtesy GM

General Motors is getting Siri-ous about its voice-activated infotainment technology.  The maker plans to introduce the Apple iPhone’s popular voice-activated personal assistant technology on three of its Chevrolet models early next year.

The technology will allow a motorist to do many of the things already found in older, less advanced voice-controlled in-car technologies, such as playing music, switching radio stations or plugging in a destination. But Siri was designed to go even further, providing access to an iPhone contact, for example, or checking or adding appointments and even finding a local business, store or restaurant.

“Safe, easy, reliable and portable connectivity is a top priority for our customers and Siri complements MyLink’s existing capabilities to help deliver an incredible driving experience,” said Cristi Landy, Chevrolet’s small car marketing director, referring to the brand’s current infotainment technology.

The technology will be offered in the conventionally powered Chevrolet Sonic subcompact and Spark minicar, as well as the new 2014 Spark EV battery-electric vehicle.  It will connect to MyLink via those vehicles’ Bluetooth technology. And GM will now place a special Siri activation button on the steering wheel, similar to the button many vehicles already have to activate conventional voice-controlled technologies.

The three models appeal to a typically youthful, tech-savvy audience and GM estimates as much as 90 percent of their buyers have smartphones already. But Siri could be integrated later into other models. The maker has also announced plans to add a next-generation version of the ChevyMyLink system to the upcoming remake of its big Impala.

Apple introduced Siri on the last version of its iPhone 4 series and it is standard on all new iPhone 5 models. The maker has also indicated its interest in working with manufacturers to get the feature integrated into vehicles by the addition of a dedicated “Siri button,” but marketing manager Landy boasted that, “Chevrolet has announced that Siri Eyes Free capability will be available in the Spark and Sonic well before the luxury brands

The Eyes Free mode will block still more complex activities that might prove to be a distraction, such as those that would require a motorist to look at the phone or the car’s video screen to take action.

Distracted driving has become a major concern among safety advocates, U.S. Department of Transportation Chief Ray LaHood recently estimating as much as 11 percent of all highway fatalities may be linked to roadway distractions such as texting. Proponents, however, insist that voice controlled technologies, such as Siri, can reduce distracted driving.

Other automakers, including Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler, Honda and Toyota are reportedly working with Apple to add Siri capability. Mercedes-Benz has already announced a voice-control feature it has described as iPhone-like, though it has not confirmed plans to add a Siri button.

Infotainment technology, especially those allowing voice control, have become all but essential for automakers hoping to appeal to buyers in the digital age.

“We have more people coming to Ford because they know we have better infotainment technology,” said Jim Farley, Ford Motor Co.’s global marketing director, during an interview with

Ford was one of the early pioneers of the technology with its Sync system which was developed through a partnership with Microsoft. But it has also discovered that infotainment systems can be both good news and bad.  The maker has taken sharp hits from consumers and critics alike for problems in operating its in-car technologies. Ford this week announced an updated version of its MyFordTouch system for the 2014 Fiesta minicar that should be easier to use.

A critical goal for makers is to simplify the operation of such technologies, with an emphasis on allowing motorists to use conventional speech rather than having to learn rigid command language that might require a series of steps to perform an otherwise simple process like pairing a smartphone.

Along with the Siri feature, the Chevy MyLink system is expanding its ability to integrate various smartphone apps to access a motorist’s choice of music, for example. And in another potential breakthrough, some Chevrolet models can link to the BringGo navi app. Based on a smartphone, it is available for just $50, a fraction of the cost for a typical in-car navigation system.

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