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Shanghai OnStar's Diane Jurgens and her grand China adventure

Matt Hamblen | Feb. 17, 2015
If staying busy is the secret to happiness, Diane Jurgens can tell you all about it.

At formal business meetings, the protocol is clearly laid out: on either side of a conference table, the senior partner for each company sits squarely in the middle, opposite his or her equal. Business cards are shared in a kind of ceremony: each person presents his or her card to another with both hands and often a subtle bow.

"You have to make sure you don't walk in and just sit down, and that threw me when I first started. You know who will start talking first and the issues are resolved ahead of time. So in the meeting, it is just role-playing most of the time. When someone speaks and the words are translated, you don't need to respond each time, but just sit politely until the entire speech is done. A lot of it is a kind of script and very formal."

Picking up the Chinese cultural cues to boost OnStar
Learning to live and work in Shanghai has given Jurgens insights into Chinese consumers of cars and telematics. The People's Republic of China is the world's most populous nation, with 1.35 billion residents. That makes it also the biggest potential market for cars and telematics, so competition is expected to become fierce in coming years.

Only one in 10 Chinese residents owns a car, so far, which is a major departure from the U.S. market. In China, an entire family will often buy a car together, and doing so is often a life-changing event. One nervous young man recently purchased a car with OnStar service included for a year, then asked the OnStar agent to call the car with the couple inside to help him propose to his future wife. "He was a little nervous to propose. Getting the car with OnStar was a rite of passage," Jurgens said.

Shanghai OnStar is by far the largest telematics provider in China, with 863,000 customers and an average annual growth rate of 95%. The first year of OnStar service is included with a car purchase. After that, the company must hustle to get return customers. Although it has seen a high retention rate, Jurgens declined to offer details.

Shanghai OnStar offers drivers and passengers in China a range of safety and navigation services, similar to the U.S, and it expects to be the first in 2015 to launch in-vehicle 4G LTE. Having an early version of the service in her private car has helped Jurgens handle the flood of daily emails from colleagues 12 time zones away. LTE has even enabled short video calls to her parents in the U.S., "a game-changer for me," she said.

Over the past three years, the company has learned to use the intense Chinese fascination with smartphones to its advantage with OnStar services. Customers can remotely lock and unlock car doors and monitor a car's health from a smartphone, for instance, helped by the OnStar mobile app, with 400,000 registered users. But the company also quickly learned it made sense to integrate OnStar services with WeChat and Weixing, highly popular Chinese social media sites. The latest WeChat app, for example, offers a payment channel to purchase OnStar services through the WePay mobile wallet.


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