BMW & Hyundai score big in first-ever J.D. Power tech survey

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2016 BMW 4-Series Coupe

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In theory, new technology should make our lives easier. But as anyone with an overflowing email inbox or a dodgy wireless router can attest, tech can actually make things worse. 

Nowhere is this truer than in cars. (For reference, check the ongoing lawsuits against Ford Motor Company [NYSE:F] over its MyFord Touch infotainment system.) To show just how frustrating some of today's automotive technology can be, the data crunchers at J.D. Power recently conducted its first-ever Tech Experience Study.

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Over the course of the study, which was conducted between February and August 2016, J.D. Power polled 17,864 new vehicle owners after they'd been driving their latest rides for 90 days. As with other Power surveys, the Tech Experience Study asked respondents to rate their experiences on a scale of 0 (sucky) to 1,000 (superlative). Tech features were scored individually, then classed into five different groups (e.g. safety, navigation, etc.)

Here are some of the study's key findings:

  • Safety technology is highly valued: Safety features like lane keeping assist and automated braking comprised the highest-rated class of technology. Those features earned an average score of 754.
  • Some safety features have even become must-haves: Power found backup cameras and blind spot warning systems to be among the most popular technologies available on today's cars. In fact, 75 percent respondents said that they used those features every time they drive. And among those who used them, 96 percent said that they want them on their next vehicles, too.
  • Navigation is... not so popular: While safety tech scored the highest of any class, navigation scored the lowest, with an average of 687. This may be because, unlike safety tech that works on its own, navigation requires user input every time it's used. If the interface isn't intuitive or if the system gives inaccurate directions, that can cause massive headaches for drivers.
  • In fact, many owners studiously avoid dashboard tech: If you've ever tried to tap your way through a radio or nav system on a center stack, that won't come as a shock. So many people have been burned by that sort of technology that 39 percent of Power's respondents said they didn't even try using it on their new cars. Rather, they relied on outside devices, like smartphones, to get the job done. (Fun fact: when asked what features they preferred to use on their smartphones, more people said "navigation" than anything else. Gotta love Google Maps, right?)
  • Dealers may determine the future of in-car tech: When dealers provided training on new cars features, respondents rated those features up to 54 points higher. To J.D. Power's Kristin Kolodge, that's a red flag: "It is alarming how many technologies consumers have in their vehicle but aren’t using because they don’t know they have them or don’t know how to use them. Both of these knowledge gaps have long-term implications for future demand."
  • Mainstream and luxury consumers have similar feelings about tech: You might think that luxury brands would do a much better job with technology than their mass-market counterparts, but you'd be wrong. In fact, the two segments earned very similar scores. Luxury consumers rated their in-car tech at 734 on Power's scale, while mainstream consumers rated theirs at 730. In fact, large mass-market vehicles had the highest satisfaction scores of any segment, at 755. Small mass-market rides had the lowest: 706.

 
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