As my colleague Cork Gaines discovered, having wifi in your car can be very useful if, among other things, you want to hook up an Amazon Echo.
In-car connectivity isn’t new, but for the past few years, a shift has begun toward turning vehicles into rolling wifi hubs.
I’ve had a front seat (Sorry!) for this because I write about cars, which means that I get to drive a lot of them. Everything from Ferraris to Teslas to Fords.
I also have three kids, which means that they get to ride in a lot of cars.
You might think that, being the children of a guy who writes about cars, they would have a laundry list of features that they enjoy in their vehicles. Infotainment. Comfy seats. Cool colors. Two of my three are boys, and without veering into sexist territory, we do know that boys tend to like their cars. So, for them, stuff like 0-60 mph stats and, I don’t know, top speeds. That kind of thing.
But they do not have a laundry list of features that they like in cars.
In fact, they’re only interested in one thing.
Does the car have Wifi?
It’s the devices, of course. They all have iPad and iPhones. We don’t have a TV, so this is how they watch shows and play games. It is all they know! Obviously, it’s preferable if the data can come through Wi-Fi, especially if you have iPads that are Wi-Fi-only.
Put the kids in a car for two hours, and they’re cut off. It’s not like we can play charming old-school driving games, such as spot the VW bug or find license plates from states that start with “A.” That sort of fun is, for them, from the Age When Dinosaurs Walked The Earth.
So far, the only major carmaker that has across-the-board Wifi on new cars is General Motors. Audi also offers Wifi, but Audi is a luxury brand, where much of what GM sells is aimed at the mass-market. Certain Chryslers have Wifi, Ford is joining the party, and of course some folks simply use their smartphone as a hotspot, or bring a mobile hotspot with them. But when Wifi is built into the car, it makes use of the vehicle’s antennae and power system, so you get a more robust experience.
GM rolled out 4G LTE Wi-Fi a few years ago was the first carmaker to really move strongly into the space; since then, others have followed. For example, the very family-centric new Honda Odyssey minivan has the feature. I first sampled GM’s wifi is a Chevy Colorado pickup truck with the technology, which is piped through the OnStar system. The Canyon was an effort by GM to re-enter the smaller pickup market, which used to be somewhat important to automakers but in the last decade or so has seen the space dominated mainly by Toyota. For GM, the effort has been extremely successful.
Pickups and wifi are a popular combo, as the truck can function as a mobile hotspot for use on job and construction sites (Cork’s vehicle is a pickup, in fact, a Chevy Silverado). As it turned out, the Colorado was actually a nice family car (it was the “crew cab” variation). All three of my kids plus my wife and I all drove from New York City to eastern Long Island and back in the truck.
The Wifi made it completely bearable. And there were no glitches — you can run seven devices, according to GM, on the 4G LTE network. We ran five.
For what it’s worth, we could have been in a much sexier car, but the kids wouldn’t have cared.
We could also have had flip-down entertainment screens and an system to show movies and so on, and wireless headphones. We have enjoyed these features in the past. But the kids are past that now.
They want to use their devices and use their headphones and remained dovetailed with the Internet. This has been a common experience for us on every GM test vehicles we’ve tried.
So this is where it’s at now. If you’re a carmaker and you want customers with kids to be happy, you must add speedy Wifi connectivity to your vehicles.
They care about this more than having Wifi on planes. At least my kids do. They’re fine with, say, JetBlue’s TVs, or the suite of entertainment options that you now get on many flights.
But in the cars, they gotta have Wifi, bottom line.