In an ongoing effort to redesign the driving experience to include more smartphone-style features, General Motors unveiled a new service today called Marketplace in which owners can pre-purchase coffee and gas, or make restaurant reservations, all from the drivers seat. GM calls it “the automotive industry’s first commerce platform for on-demand reservations and purchases of goods and services.” But I call it a solution in search of a problem.
In a promotional video, GM shows a happy dude jumping into a Chevy Equinox and tapping the Marketplace app on the center console’s touchscreen, which then brings him to a screen that shows “featured brands and offers.” This includes Shell, TGI Fridays, Wingstop, and (of course) Dunkin’ Donuts. Tapping the Dunkin’ icon brings him to a “favorite and recent orders” screen, allowing him to select the terribly phrased “My morning coffee, hot coffee” option. (Which, weirdly enough, is $0.14 more expensive than just “hot coffee.” Must be that extra coffee.)
Now, happy Chevy Equinox guy has to go pick up his coffee. He sails through the drive-through — he has to say his name at the speaker so the Dunkin’ employees know it’s the weird guy who bought his coffee with his car, but GM doesn’t show that part — grabs his “my morning coffee, hot coffee,” and off he goes, excited to use those 25 seconds he saved by using GM’s in-car technology to, I don’t know, browse Twitter?
Other examples of this technology in action are even more baffling. He gets directions to nearby Shell and Exxon gas stations, but has to use a separate app on his phone to actually complete the purchase of fuel. It’s unclear what time he’s saving by doing that, but I can see this as being useful for someone who forgot their wallet at home or use their phones as their primary payment device. Later, he books a table at TGI Fridays, which I wasn’t aware even took reservations.
GM says the marketplace feature allows Chevy, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac owners “to more safely interact with a growing number of their favorite brands in retail, fuel, hospitality, food, hotel and transportation through the in-vehicle touchscreen.” I’m not sure I understand how buying coffee on your infotainment system is somehow more safe than just ordering it at the drive-through, but it makes sense that as cars get more connected, adding Wi-Fi and LTE capabilities, it was only a matter of time before OEMs began finding ways to use that connectivity to find new, useless ways to separate you from your hard-earned dollars.
GM isn’t alone in this endeavor. Earlier this year, Jaguar and Shell said that they would be teaming up to launch a brand-new feature that allows drivers to pay for gasoline using their car’s touchscreen display. The UK automaker says it’s also working on similar in-car payment features for parking and drive-through restaurants.
Brands are already slobbering over the idea of buying up space on the screens inside these newly connected cars. And with automated driving on the horizon, the idea of passengers as captive audiences is growing increasingly probable. Ford and BMW are integrating Amazon's Alexa into their latest models for shopping and smart home control, and Audi is working with Baidu, Tencent, Alibaba, and other Chinese tech giants to build integrated services within its autonomous cars.
You may think that you’ll be sleeping in the self-driving cars of the future, but it may be hard to rest if you’re being inundated with advertising.