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Volkswagen’s ‘Car-Net’ telematics system rats out teen drivers, takes on OnStar

Volkswagen is entering the in-car telematics game with the imaginatively named Car-Net, a system that links cars to the Internet and various services.

Unlike competitors such as Ford and Toyota, which rely on a driver’s smartphone or an array of apps to get information, Volkswagen decided to go old-school and link Car-Net to actual human beings.

As with General Motors’ OnStar service, drivers can press a button mounted near the rearview mirror, which connects them to a call center. The people manning the phones can then provide information and send directions directly to the car’s navigation system.

Like OnStar, Car-Net is designed to quickly alert first responders during an emergency. It features one-touch 911 calling and automatically calls emergency services if the airbags are deployed, even providing the car’s location.

Nervous parents can also add a “geofence” through the Car-Net website to rein in teen drivers. If the car crosses a preset line, the parent is alerted by text or e-mail. Parents can also get text or email alerts when the car goes over a certain speed. No word yet on if Car-Net can also ground the teen for life.

With a companion app, VW drivers can also check the status of their car remotely, to see if the doors are locked, whether the lights were left on, etc. The app can also find a parked car, always a helpful feature.

 What buyers won’t find are any features involving a touch screen or voice recognition, or anything with the words, Google, Yelp, or Siri on it.

That’s because Car-Net really is more of an OnStar-style telematics system than a Sync-style infotainment system.

In an effort to attract tech-crazed young buyers, carmakers (including GM) have been racing to develop infotainment systems that mimic smartphones. Car-Net definitely isn’t one of those, but perhaps it will help make drivers stop multitasking and pay attention to, well, driving.

That is, if customers buy into the system both conceptually and monetarily. A six-month trial comes free with the purchase of a new VW, but after that owners will pay $199 for one year, or $17.99 month-to-month.

Car-Net is available on specific trim levels of most 2014 Volkswagens, including the Jetta, Passat, Tiguan, CC, Beetle, and Eos.

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