Are automakers spinning their wheels when it comes to infotainment technology?
A recent survey of some 14,000 automobile owners seems to suggest they are. The study, conducted jointly by the polling firm Nielsen and automotive consultants SBD, found in general that manufactures are jamming features into cars that most owners don’t use and often are not even aware of.
“It’s sort of an arms race — who can have the most technology in the vehicle — and consumers are confused,” said Nielsen Vice President Mike Chadsey.
The study, conducted via online questionnaires in April and May, found that 43 percent of participants said automakers are adding too much infotainment technology to new vehicles, and that infotainment features available now typically score low in owner satisfaction.
Of 42 vehicles features — from hybrid engines to electronic suspensions to back up cameras — the 10 that scored lowest were all infotainment-related. The worst, not surprisingly, was voice recognition. Others near the bottom included smart phone integration, built-in apps and customizable instrument panels.
Chadsey and SBD Dirctor Andrew Hart presented their findings today at an annual connected-car symposium organized by TU-Automotive.
Hart said that automakers add more features because new technology helps attract buyers, and can boost revenue by enticing consumers to add pricey option packages.
But dissatisfied owners often don’t necessarily become loyal owners. Car makers can improve loyalty by “getting infotainment right, getting the right set of features that people actually want to use and making them easy to use,” Hart said.
Infotainment features that car owners typically ignore often include:
• In-car hard drives for storing music — most people keep their music on their phones or iPods, and don’t bother loading songs into their vehicles.
• CD players — many manufacturers wonder how long they should continue to build them into cars and let them go the way of cassette players.
• Concierge services — OnStar has a large following but other automakers’ services like BMW Assist and Hyundai BlueLink attract few takers after the introductory free trial expires.
• Voice Recognition — the technology is improving and the most recent crop of cars and light trucks are significantly better at understanding spoken words. But most consumers who’ve had experience with in-car voice recognition have thrown up their hands and stick with punching buttons.