Car owners had the most complaints about audio, entertainment and navigation features in J.D. Power & Associates’ survey of auto buyers, making such technologies the biggest source of defects for the first time in the study’s 26 years.
Glitches in those vehicle systems have increased 45 percent since 2006, while other categories have improved 24 percent on average, J.D. Power said in its annual U.S. Initial Quality Study released today. Owner-reported problems with factory- installed, hands-free communications devices have more than doubled in the past four years, J.D. Power said.
The features are no longer confined to high-end vehicles as companies such as Ford Motor Co. (F:US) and General Motors Co. (GM:US) have built more technology into their latest models. More than 80 percent of new-vehicle owners this year said they had some kind of hands-free technology, according to J.D. Power.
“Technology is becoming more important as a quality differentiator,” said David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at Westlake Village, California-based J.D. Power. “This is really where the battleground is now.”
Ford has said it is working to fix faulty dashboard touch screens, which contributed to its tumble to 23rd place last year in J.D. Power’s quality ranking, compared with fifth place in 2010. This year, the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker fell further, to 27th place.
Ford is also working to better explain to customers how to use the technology, said Bennie Fowler, vice president of global quality, in Michigan yesterday. The automaker sent a software fix to 377,000 owners in March, which was too late to be included in this year’s J.D. Power quality study.
Sargent said the issues are often complicated by customer behavior because people can’t give their full attention to the technology while driving. While voice recognition software is improving, people also have varied accents, he said.
“In some cases, the technology is simply not working the way it should, particularly around things like voice recognition,” Sargent said. “Customers get pretty frustrated if they paid for a system that they then find is so frustrating to operate. They just simply stop using it.”
Technology companies are also working with carmakers to add features. Apple Inc. (AAPL:US) said last week that companies including GM, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, Honda Motor Co. (7267) and Toyota Motor Corp. (7203), may add a button to car steering wheels to quickly activate Siri, its software that takes voice commands.
J.D. Power said its study was based on surveys of more than 74,000 purchasers of 2012 model-year cars, trucks and SUVs. Owners answered a 228-question survey about their first 90 days of ownership. The study was conducted between February and May. J.D. Power is a unit of McGraw-Hill Cos.
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