Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Editorials: Car owners not using technology they paid for indicates bigger problem

Image courtesy of GM.com
In a recent study done by JD Powers, some 20 percent of new car owners do not know how to use half of the technology that they have paid for even three months after purchase. That three month period is considered the sweet spot for adoption of new technologies when an owner purchases a new vehicle so the fact that there is a rather sizable number of people who spend the money but do not actually use the technology should give manufacturers and consumers pause. I see this being a problem from a few different perspectives.

For consumers, this means that new technologies are probably being bundled together in a way that more desirable and adoptable technologies such as navigation systems or blind spot detection are combined with systems that people are not using such as in-vehicle concierge services and WiFi hotspots. As much as I dislike the idea of having a car where every single item is a separate option and it is next to impossible to find your exact combination on a dealer's lot, I also feel that consumers are getting cheated here because the bundling of unwanted technology with more desirable technology is a way to drive up the final selling price of the car. It also means saddling a car with more things that impact fuel economy, packaging, and reliability in the long run.

For manufacturers, the fact that these new technologies represent possibly millions in resources, contracts, or research costs means that must be recouped somehow. That means raising the cost of vehicles to compensate, but also adds to the challenges of bringing a vehicle to market that meets the fuel economy, safety, and reliability expectations of buyers without giving consumers sticker shock. In a lot of ways, if funds spent on developing these less desirable technologies were funneled into improvements in other areas, such as increasing fuel economy to meet future CAFE standards or improving integration with widely available and adopted smartphone technologies, that would be a wiser investment on the part of manufacturers.

For dealers, these less desirable technologies represent a conundrum. Because of how they are bundled, salespeople are often saddled with the unenviable position of explaining to a potential customer why the technology is worth paying extra for. That means they need to work harder for every sale and makes the relationship with the consumer that much more contentious if the consumer does not want or care for the additional technology. Some of the new technologies, however, are great marketing tools and represent a whiz-bang factor that can help sell cars to less informed buyers, but for those in the know, it is just another hurdle in the process.

Image courtesy of Android.com
The real problem is that many of these less desirable features are ones that seldom get used aside from serving as a good parlor trick to show friends how cool your new car is. Rather than wasting everybody's time on these types of things, it makes the most sense for dealers to make it clear to manufacturers what people actually want, for manufacturers to stop investing money in areas that are largely unused by consumers, and for consumers to start demanding that these unused technologies start to be replaced by genuinely useful innovations.

On my own Ford Focus Electric, I would happily have traded in the Ford Sync system for Android Auto. It would have saved Ford millions in R&D and public derision and I would be a lot happier.