Music apps, Internet searches, stock prices, voice activation, sports scores, dinner reservations and gas prices have little, if anything, to do with driving, but that’s not stopping automakers from putting such "conveniences" into their new cars.
The list of features, options and advancements seemingly never stops growing. So, when does enough become too much? And where is the line between what technology should be versus what it could be?
Those are the questions facing automotive engineers as they try to find the balancing point between providing usable and distraction-free technology without short-circuiting vehicle demand with gadget overload.
"Automakers did a good job of bringing us choices, content and options," said Mike VanNieuwkuyk, J.D. Power global automotive executive director. "But now we need to focus on how to help us manage all of this. Consumers have been very clear that if they don’t like something or they are confused by it, especially with so much new technology coming at them so quickly, they will turn to other sources they feel more confident in, like their smartphone."
A recent study by J.D. Power, an automotive analyst in consumer confidence and concerns, indicates that the growing number of complaints regarding the usability and functionality of in-car technology suggests this area is quickly becoming the greatest source of frustration in the newcar market.
Almost two-thirds of surveyed new-car buyers from 2014 said their technology systems either didn’t work properly or were too confusing to efficiently use. Such feedback is causing automakers to "rein in" these systems to protect their market share.
J.D. Power included more than 86,000 buyers of 2014 vehicles in its survey and those people provided an average of 116 complaints or concerns for every 100 vehicles sold, more evidence that deciphering vehicle technology might be more challenging than installing it in the vehicle in the first place.
Vehicle dependability and fuel efficiency remain the top motivators for newcar buyers. But Van-Nieuwkuyk said that with reliability at an all-time high and gas prices seemingly stabilized the past three years, confidence in those two important areas has become a "given," making incar electronics the fastest-growing area of auto tech, and the battleground where manufacturers are ferociously trying to gain an industry advantage.
Improvements are being made, but the MyFord Touch in-cab technology system has set the "standard" in driver frustration and confusion to the point where the car builder has ditched the touchscreen technology in its 2015 models for more familiar buttons and knobs. Chrysler’s Uconnect, BMW’s Connected-Drive and many other systems have also faced their share of problems and complaints.
Some popular models are offering buyers a "Eureka!" moment with mobile wi-fi access that allows passengers to wirelessly enjoy web surfing, online gaming and Internet videos as if their moving vehicle were a basement office. The GMC Canyon, Cadillac ATS coupe and Audi A8 are a few of the 2015 models offering this "hotspot" service.
Mobile wi-fi is not the only technological advancement. The 2015 Genesis and other Hyundai models include cellular telephone apps that operate systems such as remote start, auto lock/unlock and vehicle location.
Navigation improvements are also an important highlight of the 2015 lineup.
In-car traffic alerts and construction notices have been around for years. But the technology found in the 2015 Honda Accord is welcoming in a new era of navigation and
going off the beaten path to get a driver from Point A to Point B. Rather than simply showing only what lies directly ahead for a driver, Honda’s modern satellite system monitors traffic flow throughout the area and is able to suggest shortcuts or a scenic route, the latter if there is no rush getting to Point B. This technology is expected to someday include alerts for everything from a stray critter or animal carcass on the road to upcoming patches of black ice.