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Mobile technology big focus for GM North America as it rolls out connected cars

TORONTO - The president of GM North America says high-speed wireless technology will be a big focus for the carmaker this year, as it moves to integrate 4G LTE technology across its 2015 vehicle range.

The vehicle line, which will be on sale by July and August, will have all the capabilities of customers' smartphones, GM North America president Alan Batey said Tuesday.

"We're really, really excited about this and we think that this is going to be a huge product innovation across our brands here in Canada," Batey said during a media call.

"We think it's a really big step. We really wanted to be a leader here. We do believe we have a window where we can really own this space on a broad based basis."

The first GM cars, trucks and crossovers to get 4G LTE will be most 2015 Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac models available in 2014 in the United States and Canada. The service will be delivered through AT&T and its Canadian partners.

The company is also looking at including in-vehicle Wi-Fi hot spots, so that multiple devices can be connected at once.

"We're going into '14 very optimistic," he said. "Obviously we got a slow start to the year, but we're now full into it."

Auto industry analyst Dennis DesRosiers said General Motors has been leading the way when it comes to this type of technology.

"In that world, it's hard to stay miles ahead, but I would still say they're well ahead of anybody else," he said.

"It started way back with OnStar, General Motors was the first and was deeply involved with connectivity. They're well advanced and they're going to benefit from it."

While it's hard to say where exactly connectivity falls for customers relative to other attributes when choosing a vehicle, he said, "this is certainly a critical element of success."

The auto industry has seen a turnaround in recent years, with strong sales as automakers who struggled to stay afloat during an economic downturn in 2008-2009 are now racing to keep with sales demand.

While that upswing is expected to continue, the strength in sales hasn't exactly translated to security at the various automakers' manufacturing facilities.

While GM, Ford and Chrysler all build cars and trucks in Canada, questions remain about the future of manufacturing in Ontario because of the high cost compared to Mexico and the U.S.

Just last week Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne suggested those jurisdictions were courting his company after it made public its plans to upgrade its Windsor minivan plant — and asked Ottawa and Ontario to help fund the investment with an incentive package that would help offset higher costs.

GM Canada president Kevin Williams said Tuesday the company was looking at the CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ont., for next generation products, but hasn't formally announced whether the new Equinox models will be built there.

The future of GM's plan in Oshawa, remains unsure, with its Consolidated Line, which builds the Chevrolet Impala Limited and the Chevrolet Equinox, set to cease production in 2016 after receiving an extension. Oshawa also has a Flexible Manufacturing Line that builds the Chevrolet Camaro, the 2014 Chevrolet Impala, the Buick Regal and Cadillac XTS.

Williams said GM had no new announcement on its manufacturing plans, but noted the company had made "significant" investments in its Canadian operations over the last few years.

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