Auto Tech

VW Car-Net's massive updates include 5 free years of remote access

It'll appear on most 2020-model-year Volkswagens.

Offering the system for free for five years should definitely increase the number of interested buyers.

Volkswagen

I am the proud owner of a 2016 Volkswagen Golf, which comes equipped with the automaker's Car-Net connected-car system. But, for $200 a year, I never thought its offerings were worth the scratch. New Volkswagen owners, on the other hand, are about to get an entirely new Car-Net with some huge improvements, making it a much sweeter deal.

Volkswagen this week announced a raft of changes to the second iteration of its Car-Net services. Launching on most 2020-model-year Volkswagen vehicles, this new version of Car-Net (Car-Net 2.0 from here on out) promises snappier functionality and a better delineation of services. Best of all, though, its core services are free for the first five years of vehicle ownership, and that's transferable if the vehicle changes hands before the half-decade mark.

Solid core services

At the heart of Car-Net 2.0 is its mobile app, which is where most people will interact with the service. Like before, it'll let you lock and unlock the car, flash the lights, honk the horn and even start the vehicle. An update to the app's back-end reduces the time it takes to complete these tasks from 15-ish seconds to about 5. It will also work in conjunction with both Siri and Amazon Alexa in the near future, letting you start your car in the morning with a quick shout at your Echo Dot.

Car-Net's new app also includes vehicle health reports, a feature from the previous Car-Net that sends diagnostic information to an owner's email address once a month. It also lets people schedule dealer visits if the dealer supports online booking. There's a whole section of Car-Net devoted to teen drivers, also a holdover from Car-Net 1.0, that lets owners set speed and geofence alerts to keep young drivers in line.

The app is clean and straightforward, and adding services takes just a couple clicks.

Volkswagen

There are some other new functions available, too. DriveView is like those vehicle monitors that insurance companies offer, albeit without a separate dongle. The idea is that if your driving is consistently good and safe, that data can be used to prove your worth to insurance companies, which will presumably lower your rates. Those with security concerns will be happy to learn that this is opt-in only and data is not captured if you opt out.

Later this year, Car-Net will also launch a smartwatch app. Available for both Apple Watch and Android Wear, this new integration will offer many of the same benefits as the big-boy app without the need to pull out a phone.

Car-Net 2.0 will incur a charge after those five years are up, but VW hasn't finalized pricing yet.

Additional services for a price

Everything mentioned in the previous section is part of Car-Net's complimentary five-year service. However, if you're looking for a bit more peace of mind, there's a $99-per-year Safe & Secure package that adds a few more features.

Hitting the i-Call button will bring up Information Assistance, which lets the driver talk to a Car-Net agent to find out more information about the account or have point-of-interest information beamed directly to the head unit. Hitting the SOS button will also connect to an agent, at which point the agent can direct emergency services to the vehicle or reach out to a person's emergency contact, so long as a cellular connection can be established.

Safe & Secure also automatically notifies agents when the vehicle has been in a crash. If the alarm gets triggered at any point, it'll send a notification to the owner's phone. If, heaven forbid, the vehicle is stolen, Safe & Secure can also be used to track the vehicle and provide information to law enforcement.

Now if your car gets rifled through at the airport, you can get a notification about it, rather than coming back to a surprise.

Volkswagen

Wi-Fi hotspot with a twist

One of the cleverest bits of the Car-Net 2.0 update is its 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot. That might not seem all that exciting, because tons of automakers offer this now and VW only allows four devices to connect simultaneously, but there's one important twist.

While every other automaker pretty much requires you to stick with a certain cellular provider that it's inked a deal with, Volkswagen wants to open things up. It says it will allow owners to pick their provider and connect that to the vehicle, whether it's part of an existing account or something standalone. It'll start with Verizon Wireless in 2019, expanding to include T-Mobile in 2020, with other providers to follow after that.

Looking to the future

Car-Net is only getting started. While this is a pretty massive overhaul, the company has more in store. The underlying connected-car architecture in these vehicles could be used for a variety of other purposes. Details are scant for now, but Volkswagen mentioned using this system for in-car parcel delivery during work hours, in addition to a peer-to-peer car-sharing network that can permit vehicle access using an app. Now that its vehicles have a strong connection to the internet, the sky's the limit for VW's telematics.

While other automakers may offer hotspots that connect up to 10 devices, good luck trying to fit 10 people into the car. Offering just four simultaneous device connections seems plenty fine.

Volkswagen