General Motors Co. is escalating the battle over in-car connectivity with a plan to transform its vehicles into virtual smartphones armed with the fastest data speeds in the market.

The auto maker will begin wiring its 2014 models sold in the U.S. and Canada with 4G mobile broadband technology, one of the first auto makers to do so. A vehicle owner would select a subscription package and connect to the Internet or WiFi at speeds that are 10 times faster than current market offerings. The 4G feature will be offered across GM’s Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, Opel and Vauxhall brands.

GM’s current MyLink system allows cars to run a variety of apps.

The new feature could usher in a slew of new options for the vehicle’s center console screen and for video viewers in the backseat. One such option is the display of real-time traffic jams or construction sites on a route map. Currently, viewers see a map showing only the driver’s current location and the distance to the destination.

Another possibility is teaming with other companies such as the Weather Channel to show weather radar projections based on the vehicle’s current location, hourly weather forecasts and the extended outlook. Unlike today, all of this will be done without having to plug a smartphone into the vehicle.

“We are going to make the experience of streaming or connecting more productive, which should help to make that road trip shorter,” said Mary Chan, president of the global connected consumer at GM’s OnStar division.

The auto maker will use AT&T Inc. as its 4G provider in the U.S. and Canada. Other providers will be selected as GM moves to offer the feature in other regions around the world.

GM is attempting not only to catch up to, but also to nose ahead of rivals — such as Ford Motor Co. — that have found success using the latest in consumer technology to sell their cars and pickup trucks. In terms of built-in Internet connectivity, the move puts GM a step ahead of BMW AG and Volkswagen AG’s Audi division, which offer 4G via a variety of connection options.

Chief Executive Dan Akerson has pushed internally for a portfolio of globally connected cars and pickups almost since he stepped into the top role in September 2010.

As a veteran of the telecommunications industry, Akerson had found that GM’s in-car technologies lacked depth even though it owned OnStar, one of the best known wireless systems in the industry. The system, which was offered starting in 1996, has more than six million subscribers and provides everything from emergency help to the ability to locate a floral shop with the press of a button…

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