Verizon Vehicle Wants to Be Your Virtual Mechanic

Source: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

If you own an older vehicle, you may feel like you’re getting left behind in the new age of automotive technology. Fear not, however, for Verizon (of all companies) has heard your cries. So enters Verizon Vehicle, the company’s way of retrofitting the 200 million vehicles currently on the road that do not have access to real-time diagnostics, road-side assistance, and more.

“Verizon Vehicle is a unique and truly holistic aftermarket solution available to over 200 million vehicles on the road today,” said Erik Goldman, who leads Verizon’s Telematics division. “It affords millions of drivers the power of knowing when things aren’t working well, potentially before a breakdown occurs — fostering a safer, smarter and more economical way to drive and maintain a vehicle.”

Source: Verizon
Source: Verizon

The system itself consists of three components — a Bluetooth two-way speaker that attaches to an overhead visor, an OBD reader which connects to your vehicle via the diagnostic port, and an optional smartphone app, which relays diagnostic information to the user in real-time.

The true strength of Verizon Vehicle is that it is compatible with just about any vehicle you can imagine. Verizon claims that the system will work with more than 9,000 different models, and almost every vehicle that was built after 1996. As for which models are incompatible, Verizon will have a list available for interested customers.

Verizon Vehicle will be available for a relative bargain at only $14.99 per month, or $179 annually. The hardware — meaning the speaker seen above, and the OBD reader, seen on the following page, are free with a subscription. The system is set to hit the market at some point this spring, and is available to all consumers, not just those who use Verizon as their wireless carrier.

Essentially, what Verizon has done is find a way to replicate GM’s OnStar system, but for older vehicles. While many will be skeptical regarding its functionality, and frankly, whether or not it’s worth the money, looking at the long list of features is only fair. Along with roadside assistance and an emergency-notification system, Verizon Vehicle will have a mechanic’s hotline, a parking & meter tool, stolen vehicle location assistance, and a travel & repair savings program, similar to AAA.

Source: Verizon
Source: Verizon

Again, for the skeptical, there are some things to keep in mind. On a call after the main presentation with The Cheat Sheet, Joe Boyle with the Verizon Telematics team did point out that as with phone service, the system could become interrupted when driving through tunnels, in parking garages, or even in extremely rural areas.

“For the vast majority of people, that shouldn’t ever be an issue,” Boyle said.

Though Verizon’s latest creation presents a fairly cool concept, whether or not consumers buy-in is a whole different question. The company has already raised trust issues with its customer base before, and many people may be uncomfortable with the fact that Verizon will now essentially be tracking their every move, and have a two-way speaker installed in their vehicle. Joe Boyle did assure The Cheat Sheet that the company was taking every security precaution possible, and that the speaker component cannot capture conversation. That said, privacy and security concerns are still something Verizon will need to combat.

Another question moving forward is whether or not the system itself will be sustainable on the market for the long-term. After all, older vehicles will be replaced with time, and as they go, so will the need for Verizon’s system. Many, if not most, new vehicles come with monitoring systems of some kind, so it will be interesting to see how the company chooses to integrate its system in the future as older vehicles become less and less common. Verizon may have an advantage over systems like Ford Sync and Chrysler’s UConnect with additional features like the mechanic’s hotline.

Verizon Vehicle also enters a market that already has a few competitors. Companies like Automatic Labs have already released a similar device, although it definitely won’t have the resources and the marketing machine behind it like Verizon Vehicle will.

Without a doubt, Verizon will find a subset of its consumer base that will be excited about its new system, and willing to give it a shot. After all, it’s priced reasonably, looks relatively simple to use, and can provide a valuable service. It’s all riding on whether or not customers see it that way as well.