General Motors Co. is continuing to flesh out its shop-and-drive Marketplace app, demonstrating an early strategy for making money from connected and self-driving vehicles.

The Detroit automaker's latest deal — to add in-dash fuel payment in newer Buicks via a partnership with ExxonMobil — adds to a growing suite of retail capabilities in the quirky infotainment feature.

That's giving GM access to a "treasure trove" of data, including drive-and-buy habits that indicate what kinds of services the automaker should be investing in for the future, according to Michelle Krebs, an automotive analyst with Cox Automotive. 

"We are moving to a different future of connected, self-driving and probably electric vehicles, and the business models for those vehicles will be different," she said. "It's likely these cars would be fleet-owned, and what automakers are trying to do — and GM is leading that pack — is find ways to make money beyond the sale of the vehicles."

GM isn't selling Marketplace data at this time, said GM spokesman Stefan Cross said, but it can track the popularity of each retailer broken down by category, like fuel or food.

Marketplace currently generates revenue by either charging retailers to be featured in the app or charging a percentage of each transaction. There is also a "shop" feature of Marketplace in which drivers can buy GM products like parts or WiFi. 

Marketplace already allows drivers to use their cars to order coffee, make restaurant reservations or even buy chicken wings, usually via an establishment's existing rewards or membership program. Chevrolet drivers in a few pilot cities have been able to use in-dash fuel payment at Shell stations since April.

"These kinds of technologies do something that for a long time hasn’t existed in connected cars, which is give consumer something of value," said Mike Ramsey, an automotive industry analyst with Gartner. "Every car company is counting on (connectivity) and digital experiences in the car to create new revenues and to help them save money in the future."

Shop-and-drive retailing or advertising will certainly play a role in a driverless future, but it also has a place in today's vehicle market as automakers pack vehicles with expensive high-tech features.

GM's Marketplace app started rolling out via over-the-air updates in December for model-year 2017 or newer Chevrolets, Buicks, GMCs and Cadillacs with compatible infotainment systems. The shop-and-drive app saw its user base grown by about 50 percent in the second quarter of 2018, according to a GM spokesman, with the highest levels of driver interaction focused on "drive-related" categories like fuel and GM products and services.

The shop-and-drive Marketplace app is separate from GM’s OnStar system, which recently underwent a re-branding of sorts to refocus on its original safety and security messaging. 

"The nice thing about these platforms is they give carmakers access to more data that will add value," Ramsey said. Connected platforms will be useful in autonomous vehicles, he said, but will be just as useful in all cars as they add more capabilities.

"Right now this is so nascent, it’s early on, and GM needs to make improvements in the interface, but eventually every car company will need to have similar services and GM has a distinct advantage," Ramsey said. "They’ve had OnStar for a long time, and they've already run traps on what consumers will and will not pay for."

The new ExxonMobil feature, which syncs with that company's Speedpass app accounts to accumulate rewards, will appear on the Marketplace home screen in eligible 2017 model year or newer Buicks.

The new Marketplace app allows Buick drivers to pay for fuel from their vehicle without swiping a credit card or using a smartphone at more than 11,000 Exxon or Mobil stations, GM said Tuesday.

ExxonMobil already offers a mobile payment option via the Speedpass app in 2015, but the in-car payment option is a first for the company. 

GM's Chevrolet brand already rolled out a similar option with Shell earlier this year. Both platforms work in generally the same way, requiring drivers to choose a station location, pump number and confirm payment method from behind the wheel. That will activate the pump and allow the driver to begin fueling.

Twitter: @noranaughton

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