TRAVERSE CITY, MI – General Motors Corp. has an advantage over its competitors when it comes to in-vehicle wireless communications, an executive says.

GM makes use of both Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) and Vehicle Infrastructure Integration (VII) technologies through its OnStar system, says Bob Lange, executive director of structural and safety integrity.

“GM is clearly ahead of the rest of the industry in terms of our thinking and technology as it relates to the connected vehicle,” Lange tells Ward’s.

Lange joins representatives of Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG at the Management Briefing Seminars here to discuss the future of wireless vehicle communication systems.

The panel agrees future applications of imbedded roadside technology that interacts with a vehicle and vice-versa could cut down on the number of U.S. fatalities each year – estimated at 42,000 and resulting in $230 billion in economic loss. “We need to do something to reduce those numbers,” says Jim Vondale, director of environment and safety engineering for Ford. “Injuries and fatalities of younger drivers are over represented, while older drivers can’t withstand the forces (of an accident). Both ends of the spectrum need to be worked on.”

While session panelists agree both DSRC and VII technologies would save lives, they also acknowledge a business case must be made for their implementation. However, Lange argues auto makers first and foremost have a responsibility to improve motor vehicle safety.

“At GM, we believe every auto manufacturer is a partner in the injury control system here in the U.S. and in every other country we market our product,” Lange tells Ward’s following the presentation.

“The implementation of OnStar technology promotes that goal and also provides a revenue stream for the company,” he says. “It’s a delicate and artful mix for business opportunity and improvement in terms of the quality of the driving experience for our customers.”

In order to fully realize the potential offered by DSRC and VII, industry and government must work together, says Stephan J. Speth, director - vehicle compliance and safety affairs for DaimlerChrysler.

“The National VII Coalition was established to oversee a program to access deployment feasibility,” he says, noting the coalition includes eight auto makers and various government entities. “We hope to reach a conclusion and go to Congress with it by the fourth quarter of 2008.”

VII and DSRC applications range from monitoring roadway conditions to providing dynamic traffic information.

Some panelists suggest future applications would allow the vehicle to take control from the driver in order to avoid accidents. But Lange warns it is imperative the industry tread lightly.

“We need to know a lot more before we take a decision away from a driver and act to autonomously brake or steer a vehicle,” he says.

“I can envision circumstances where that decision could be made, but we need to have a lot more information and a lot more sophisticated understanding of driving dynamics and where the threshold would be placed.”