When the new, all-electric Mercedes-Benz EQS rolls into showrooms later this year it will serve as a technological showcase, with 56 inches of video screens stretching across the instrument panel, a voice assistant capable of operating virtually all onboard functions, the ability to park remotely — and even an electronically controlled HEPA filter.
The question is whether potential customers will either want or need all the technology built into the new battery-electric vehicle — or all the other high-tech products now coming to market. In many cases, the answer is “No,” according to a new study by J.D. Power.
“New-vehicle prices are at an all-time high, partly as a result of an increased level of content,” said Kristin Kolodge, executive director of human machine interface at J.D. Power. “This is fine if owners are getting value for their money, but some features seem like a waste to many owners.”
A sizable share of buyers either don’t use all the technology built into their vehicles, according to Power’s 2021 Tech Experience Index. In many cases, owners don’t want all those features, and others don’t even know what technology their vehicles offer.
What gets low marks and what is well liked
Gesture control systems rank rock bottom with owners, based on the latest study. It found the technology, which tracks hand movements to control features like audio volume, had an “extremely high” number of problems and the lowest overall score based on consumer responses.
At the other extreme, one-pedal driving ranked at the very top and experienced the fewest number of reported problems. The technology, offered in the newest electric vehicles, allows a motorist to rely on the accelerator alone to slow and even stop, rather than having to jump back and forth from throttle to brake.
Automakers are investing heavily in new technology. Most major brands now operate tech research and development facilities in or near Silicon Valley. Some of the features have been borrowed from smartphones, others from voice assistant technologies like Amazon’s Alexa. But “for more than one in three advanced technologies, fewer than half of owners have used the technology in the first 90 days of ownership,” according to a summary of the new study.
“Non-users most often say they don’t need these technologies. For example, 61% of owners say they have never used the in-vehicle digital market technology, and 51% of those saying they have no need for it. Owners feel similarly about the driver/passenger communication technology, with 52% saying they have never used the technology, and 40% of those saying they have no need for it.”
What you like depends on what company supplies it
How well motorists react to their technology often depends upon the brand they buy from. Genesis, the luxury spinoff of Hyundai, ranked highest in the Tech Experience Index, or TXI, followed by Cadillac, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz.
(Editor’s note: Tesla would top the study but the EV maker does not let Power access owners in a number of states, so data on the company is limited.)
Luxury brands tend tend to offer the most built-in technology and, on the whole, scored higher than mainstream models, but non-premium marques have begun loading their vehicles up with high-tech features, as well. Among the mainstream brands, Hyundai scored highest, followed by Kia, Nissan, Subaru and GMC.
Porsche was the lowest-ranked luxury brand, just ahead of Alfa Romeo, Acura and Jaguar. Mitsubishi had the overall lowest score of any brand, with Mini and Jeep faring only slightly better in owners’ eyes.
The challenge for manufacturers is to stay on top of technology trends, according to Power and other researchers, while delivering the sort of features that consumers actually want and need. All too often, carmakers appear to be trying to one-up each other without actually paying attention to what works for their customers.
Complicating matters, the industry has faced serious challenges with quality and reliability. In recent years, technologies like voice assistants, in-car navigation and infotainment systems have been responsible for the major of “problems” reported by new vehicle buyers in another closely watched Power survey, the annual Initial Quality Study. “The TXI research quantifies the benefits when there is alignment between what owners truly want and what the automakers produce,” said Kolodge.