A new JD Power survey on technology gear finds new car owners are more satisfied with collision avoidance technologies than with factory navigation systems. No surprise, huh? In fact, four in 10 new car owners ignore an integrated nav system or other technology and bring in a replacement device they’re more comfortable with.
The first JD Power Tech Experience Index (TXI) study tracks six areas of “driver-centric vehicle technology” in the first 90 days of ownership for cars that are new or redesigned in the past three years. Of the seven segments, BMW and Hyundai were ranked highest in two segments each. Interestingly, the Power survey respondents seem to prefer warnings that beep and alert everyone in the car, over warnings only the driver senses.
Love collision avoidance tech. Navigation, not so much
The areas covered by the survey were:
- Collision protection/avoidance
- Comfort and convenience
- Driving assistance
- Entertainment and connectivity
- Smartphone mirroring
According to Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction and HMI research at J.D. Power, the highest satisfaction scores came from the collision protection and avoidance category. That means blind spot detection or warning, lane departure warning or lane keeping / lane centering assist, and backup cameras and backup sonar.
On a 1,000-point scale (higher is better), collision protection scored 754, the best of all groups. Navigation showed the lowest satisfaction score, 687. More than three-quarters of owners said they use blind spot detection and backup cameras/sonar every time they drive; 96% said it’s a must-have for their next car.
Some drivers replace factory nav with their own
This ought to scare the auto industry: Some car buyers never use the technology that comes with the car. Most often it’s the navigation system that’s gathering cobwebs. Of those who don’t use a specific technology, 39% bring in a replacement, indicating they wanted the technology, but the automaker’s version wasn’t usable. Of that 39% who do bring in an external device, 57% said they never once used the technology they replaced.
It’s easy to replace the built-in navigation, too; just bring along any contemporary smartphone, or plug in a portable navigation device. With navigation, drivers know quite well what navigation costs: free on their smartphones, $ 100 to $ 500 tops with a PND, versus $ 500 to $ 1,200 typically for built-in. Now, with automakers supporting Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, integrated factory navigation has to be really good, and the imputed cost probably has to be $ 250 or less to interest buyers. It will be interesting see how many automakers follow Honda’s lead: The Honda Civic only requires Honda navigation on the top trim line, while the bulk of the Civic line has a big center-stack LCD and CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility.
Preference for audible alerts
Another finding that might surprise long-time users of in-car technology is most drivers prefer audible alerts over tactile alerts, such as a steering wheel or seat cushion that vibrates.
For lane departure warning, 63% of respondents said they liked audible alerts; 44% liked vibration/tactile alerts. (Survey-takers could make multiple selections.)
For blind spot detection, 69% liked audible alerts, while 66% liked visual alerts on the mirrors (or door pillars).
The survey covers owners who’ve had their cars for 90 days. It will be interesting to see if preferences change over time. Some drivers initial express concern that a vibrating steering wheel suggests something is wrong with the car, even if the steady vibration feels different from unbalanced tires or a rough road. It may be drivers don’t like that audible alerts are heard by everyone in the vehicle, especially if it leads to differences of opinion over how well the driver is driving.
Cadillac’s Safety Seat uses vibrating seat cushions that also vibrate left or right depending on the potential hazard; both sides vibrate if you’re following too closely, or are about to back into an object. The Cadillac CTS was one of the segment winners. Both Hyundai and Kia, on their top-line cars including one of the segment winners, the Hyundai Genesis (image above), put blind spot detection and lane departure warning alerts in the head up display, as well as in the mirror.
Power’s Kolodge also said that for on-board navigation,”in the US market … touch screens are a much more favorable control type.” Voice input continues to be dissatisfying for many drivers. The minority of cars use a control wheel and/or touchpad. However, there is some indication that over time drivers become fonder of control wheels, such as BMW iDrive (image above), Audi MMI, and Mercedes-Benz Comand. BMW’s new models offer multiple interaction possibilities: iDrive, touchscreen, gestures, voice, and touchpad.
It may also be touchscreen users are happier when some commands are initiated using buttons flanking the display, while cars with few or no buttons, such as Cadillac CUE or Honda Display Audio, have gotten decidedly mixed reviews. Still, one Cadillac (CTS) with CUE was cited in the Power TXI results.
The top-three finishers
For the inaugural survey, Power assigned vehicles to eight broad categories that sometimes combined sedans, SUVs and pickups. These are the top three finishers in each category, in order. The numbers in parentheses are the overall TXI scores for all vehicles surveyed.
Compact (727 average TXI score). Kia Forte, Scion iM (rebadged for 2017 as Toyota Corolla iM), Mitsubishi Outlander.
Small (706). Hyundai Tucson, Scion iA, Fiat 500X
Midsize (725). Chevrolet Camaro, Kia Sorento tie with Nissan Murano.
Large (755). Nissan Maxima, Chevrolet Silverado LD, GMC Sierra LD.
Compact premium (732). BMW 4 Series, Lexus IS, Lincoln MKC.
Small premium (735). BMW 2 Series, Audi A3, BMW X1.
Midsize premium (731). Hyundai Genesis, Cadillac CTS, Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class.
Large premium. Insufficient data.
Of the 21 vehicles named, General Motors and Hyundai/Kia (corporate siblings) had four each; three of the Hyundai/Kia mentions were tops in category. Toyota was represented by two Scions and a Lexus, although the Scion iA is sourced from Mazda. Fiat Chrysler had two Fiats, but no Chryslers, even though the Garmin-based Chrysler navigation systems are considered best-in-show. There was only one Ford Motor Co. product, the midsize Lincoln (Matthew McConaughey) MKC. Volkswagen and Honda/Acura were shut out in this survey.
According to Power, in order to name three top finishers, each category required at least four models (otherwise every entrant would be a winner) and the models surveyed had to account for a combined two-thirds of sales. For the large premium category, which ironically would have the most technology, there was insufficient data. Power cautions that the top three are ordered by the numerical scores on the survey and may not represent a statistically significant difference.
The survey was fielded from February to August 2016. Power says the study was based a survey of 17,8643 lessees; the awards were based on 13,269 respondents who’d bought a new car in the previous 90 days that was new or significantly redesigned in the past three years.
Can dealers make a difference?
Power contends that good dealers help improve satisfaction with technology. The average TXI score was 730 (scale of 1,000). When an owner finds a technology difficult to use (DTU), there is an average falloff of 98 points on the overall satisfaction score. But, “Among owners who learn how to operate the technologies from their dealer, overall satisfaction is 25-54 points higher” than when they learn on their own or get by with previous knowledge.
A challenge for dealerships is finding sales reps who understand technology. Barring that, a dealership has to hire a couple geeks who do the explaining to new owners.