This review came about because I recently purchased a 2013 Chevrolet Volt, and then became fascinated by the remarkable extent to which GM (and, presumably, other car makers) empower the customer to remotely extract information about the vehicle’s status and also send various operational commands to the vehicle. Quite honestly, the functionality of desktop browser access and smartphone remote control apps played no role in my decision to choose a Volt. Never even came up (and there may be reasons for that – more later about general dealership lack of interest in EVs).
At this point, wondering what remote access software other auto makers provide for their EVs, I searched online for comparative reviews of apps and basically came up empty-handed. So, I set about compiling the information myself. At the end of this post, you’ll find a table depicting the results of my search – the information is, obviously, too late to influence my own purchase decision one way or another, but perhaps the exhibit’s layout and results may be helpful if you are thinking about springing for an EV.
I worked hard to approach this objectively. Really, I did! Clearly, this was somewhat of an academic exercise for me because, after all, my vehicle selection was a fait accompli. Still, with fairness as the goal, the way I went about this involved five general activities:
- Scope & Preparation: Created a spreadsheet to list the main remote access features by automaker. I selected (in alphabetic order) the latest EV from Chevy (Volt), Ford (Focus), Honda (Fit), Nissan (Leaf), and Toyota (Prius). Sure, there are (and will be) more models, so this table may be a useful template for you to evaluate those as well.
- Research Manufacturer’s Websites: I went to each manufacturer’s web site and devoured all the information available on the browser-based and smartphone remote apps available for each selected vehicle. In most cases, it wasn’t much. Details were often glossed over or not provided at all. Sometimes, the car makers seemed to be in the process of introducing new EV apps alongside older and more limited applications for non-EV autos – and their online descriptions often blurred the lines between the two. In other cases, it was a challenge to parse out which features were provided by smartphone apps as opposed to available in desktop browser access as opposed to manual settings made via the auto’s dashboard interface. In most cases, I suspect the foggy landscape was deliberate. They make you work for it.
- Wider Online Research: With so many unanswered questions, I cast a wider net. The search took in official and unofficial customer support forums, third-party reviews, YouTube videos, and any source that popped up along the way. Many questions were answered this way, but others still remained outstanding.
- Actual or Simulated Testing: Of course, I was able to use Chevy’s MyVolt.com website and the Chevy RemoteLink smartphone app. Ford allowed prospective customers to sign on to their MyFordMobile.com as “Guest” and explore app features as well as simulate sending commands to the vehicle – which I thought was cool. With the others, I had to be content with finding screenshots of their web and/or smartphone apps and pretend I was going from screen to screen.
- In-Person Dealer Interviews: I personally visited local Phoenix, AZ dealerships for four out of five of these manufacturers. I sat down with whoever they selected as the most knowledgeable for their particular EV. We went over my understanding of app features and any outstanding questions. For the most part, while each dealership was certainly friendly and open, it was an eye-opener how little most seemed to know about how browser or smartphone apps work with their EVs or even what apps were available. It wasn’t a pretty picture. One could be excused for leaving with the feeling that, with a couple exceptions, dealers weren’t enthused at all about even selling EVs here in Arizona. If so, what must be the impression they’re conveying to potential customers?
The table below is comprehensive and speaks for itself … of course, there may be mistakes. Hopefully, none that are material. Where I couldn’t ascertain a feature was provided – but suspected it might be buried in there somewhere – I’ve labeled it as “Unclear”. To be fair, this review will make no vehicle recommendation(s). But, before you dive in, several caveats are in order:
- The table only addresses features and commands that at least one of the manufacturers provides via desktop browser interface and/or a smartphone app. While some of the same functionality may be provided via manual settings entered at the car’s dashboard and/or by pressing key fob or remote buttons, this exhibit ignores those.
- The table focuses only on capabilities accessible by the OS X Safari desktop browser or an iOS smartphone app developed by the automaker. In most cases (but not all) you can do the same thing using an Android or Blackberry smartphone, and/or different browsers – but this is, after all, MacDaily.co and we’re partial to Apple’s offerings.
- Smartphone control of car entertainment systems is outside the scope of this review.
- All the manufacturers expect you to bring a smartphone with an active data plan to the table. In Toyota’s case, your smartphone serves as the internet “hotspot” to provide web access for commands to the onboard systems. You subscribe to EnTune mostly for entertainment. In the other cases, data connectivity to the web and outside comes through your subscription to each automaker’s telematics provider (such as OnStar, CarWings, etc.). Generally, the first three years are free.
- Voice calling capability is out of scope for this review, as are roadside assistance offerings.
- Finding the nearest charging station is a process that’s often cobbled together with third-party offerings such as PlugShare, ChargePoint, Blink, etc. You can get this charge mapping capability from interfaces provided by each automaker, but the ease of use varies wildly.
- Only two of the five vehicles provide so-called “extended range” design; that is, the capability to use both electric and/or gasoline power. For the others, the table blanks out features related to fuel consumption as not applicable.
Hopefully, you’ll find this information useful – here’s the table: