By Jeff Sanford
Westlake Village, California -- August 25, 2015 -- Well-known automotive consultancy J.D. Power has just released a fascinating new report that deflates some of the hype around connected and digital cars.
According to the report automakers are spending billions on devices and doodads that no one is using. The most interesting bit in the report is a suggestion that insurance companies could be paying more for collision avoidance technology than they are saving in fewer payouts. It’s a heck of a report, no doubt.
The basic finding is that “automakers are investing billions of dollars to put technologies in their cars and light trucks that are not being used by many of the owners of those vehicles.” This is not something OEM executives will want to hear. But these are the findings of the J.D. Power 2015 Driver Interactive Vehicle Experience (DrIVE) Report. It confirms something many have likely suspected—the new technologies the industry are promoting as a revolution in driving aren’t catching on.
According to the 2015 DrIVE Report at least 20 percent of new-vehicle owners have never used 16 of the 33 technology features measured. The five features most commonly report that they “never use” are in-vehicle concierge (43 percent); mobile routers (38 percent); automatic parking systems (35 percent); head-up display (33 percent); and built-in apps (32 percent).
Considering all the hype around these new techs, the report might seem contrarian. But it is also not surprising.
According to the findings twenty percent or more of owners do not want their next vehicle to have things like Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto, in-vehicle concierge services and in-vehicle voice texting. Why would they went these things? Everyone already has a smartphone they are very familiar with.
“In many cases, owners simply prefer to use their smartphone or tablet because it meets their needs; they’re familiar with the device and it’s accurate,” says Kristin Kolodge, Executive Director of Driver Interaction & HMI research at J.D. Power. “In-vehicle connectivity technology that’s not used results in millions of dollars of lost value for both consumers and the manufacturers.”
In an interview with Collision Repair magazine, Kolodge said that the people surveyed said they felt many of the entertainment and mapping services are more intuitive on their smart-phone than the services the OEMs have come up with.
“In vehicles that deliver navigation systems, we find that when the auto companies deliver them the programs are not intuitive. The user has to page through different screens. The voice recognition doesn’t work well. People find it’s easier to bring in their cell phone and use Google maps,” says Kolodge.
This can’t be a surprise. The car companies are not Silicon Valley companies. That said, consumers did like the new safety features.
“Looking at the safety tech, this is something people want. Consumers want safety tech on their cars,” says Kolodge. “It’s working fairly well. You do get some complaints about false negative readings. But those are not high. Low-speed crash avoidance is dong very well. Those consumers who have these new safety features in their car tend to be very satisfied. Not only do they use it all the time. But they want this technology on the next one. So that type of tech has been a real positive.”
It’s the entertainment and infotainment items, like back of seat video screens and voice recognition for mapping systems, that people don’t care for. But the new safety features like camera and sensor enabled lane-drift correction and low speed collision avoidance, vehicle health diagnostics, blind-spot warning and detection, and adaptive cruise control, they do want.
Another finding that Kolodge found interesting was the short window within which buyers needed to become familiar with an item.
“I was surprised. It’s very important to get the buyers using this stuff right away. If they didn’t try it out in thirty days, they typically didn’t use these devices. The first 30 days are critical. That first-time experience with the technology is the make-it-or-break-it stage. If the customer says it took me six weeks to figure this out, they’re not going to use it,” says Kolodge. “Automakers need to get it right the first time, or owners will simply use their own mobile device instead of the in-vehicle technology.”
Because the first few weeks of ownership are so critical, dealerships play the most important role in helping owners get off to a good start with the technology in their vehicle, Kolodge noted.
“While dealers are expected to play a key role in explaining the technology to consumers, the onus should be on automakers to design the technology to be intuitive for consumers,” says Kolodge. “Automakers also need to explain the technology to dealership staff and train them on how to demonstrate it to owners.”
Even so, cars that allow users to use their smartphone for things like mapping are proving popular. “Bring your own media is proving popular. Plug and play, some are really liking that. Some systems will let you use Seri. Consumers really like that. Vehicles that have capitalize on this are proving popular,” says Kolodge.
Considering all the money being spent on this stuff it is almost cringe-worthy to realize that, among all owners, the most frequently cited reasons for not wanting a specific technology feature in their next vehicle are “did not find it useful.” That’s gotta hurt. But what to do? Automakers have created their own internal tech divisions. They’ve reinvented the tech wheel that Silicon Valley has already created. Could the OEMs cut the billions spent on tech from budgets, provide a plug-in for smartphones and offer a cheaper car?
“At some point consumers are paying for it. They are spending a lot of capital on this. If they are not finding and providing the services … they might want to consider redeploying that capital somewhere else,” says Kolodge.
Another interesting finding in the study had to do with insurance companies. Could the costs of fixing these devices be higher than repairing the accidents that they prevent?
“The auto industry is pondering this, the stats around avoided accidents,” says Chip Lackey, an insurance analyst with J.D. Power. “At the end of the day the insurance companies are not so happy around minor collision repair of a real bumper that now includes the camera system. These are expensive things to replace. As the numbers are gathered over the years to come, we’ll find out: Have all the avoided accidents compensated for the extra cost of repairing these expensive bumpers? We don’t know yet. That was a real eye opener in this. We need to do a lot of data mining on this. We need to find out where the balance is between frequency and cost. That’s something the North American insurance industry has to figure out yet. A slight bumper scrape that would normally cost a few hundred dollars to repair can catapult a claim into thousands of dollars when a park assist camera or other sensors are damaged.”
Lackey also said that the new and numerous digital bells and whistles may be distracting drivers, raising costs for insurers. “While some technologies, such as lane-departure warning, are making vehicles safer, the insurance industry is very concerned about the driver-distraction hazards caused by some of the other technologies,” says Lackey.
The 2015 Driver Interactive Vehicle Experience (DrIVE) Report is based on responses from more than 4,200 vehicle owners and lessees after 90 days of ownership. The report was fielded in April through June 2015.