Mainstream and Premium Vehicle Owners Equally Satisfied With In-Vehicle Technology

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One would assume that premium vehicles provide higher customer satisfaction than affordable models, but in the case of technology, they don’t.

A new study by J.D. Power shows that owner satisfaction in areas like navigation, information, HVAC, and active safety is the same for mainstream brands as pricey premium brands. Both premium and non-premium brands average 750 on a 1,000 scale according to the latest 2017 Tech Experience Index (TXI) Study.

The study looked at 19,500 owners of new vehicles after 90 days of ownership. More than enough time to learn, practice, use, and form a judgment about the in-vehicle technology they purchased. The study drew many interesting conclusions, but what we find of most interest is that at the end of three months, those who paid more for their vehicle were not more satisfied. Visit any Facebook group or automotive forum for any brand and it is easy to see that infotainment and active safety systems are popular discussions. So too are HVAC systems, which are increasingly being placed into the menus of the infotainment system, rather than made simple three knobs and an AC button.

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Automakers want happy customers and logic follows paying more for a car, crossover, or truck should make a person happier. However, the growing evidence is that the technology found in mainstream vehicles is as good or better than the technology in more expensive models. A 2016 study that looked at the headlight effectiveness of midsize cars found that the mainstream Prius V outscored cars from Infiniti, BMW, Acura and even Toyota’s own premium Lexus models. You would be shocked to see where Mercedes Benz ranked.

RELATED: How Are Things Like Headlights evaluated?

The 2017 J.D. Power TXI Study found that the highest-ranked midsized vehicle for owner satisfaction was the Chevrolet Camaro. BestRide has tested both the base version of the Camaro and also a higher-trim 1SS Convertible. We looked back to see what we had written about the highest-ranked midsized car for in-vehicle tech. Philip Ruth tested the Camaro 1SS drop-top and said of the infotainment system, “Chevrolet’s MyLink user interface is glitzy – the highlighted outlines around the buttons are a little much – but otherwise, this eight-inch screen dialed up everything we wanted with swift responses to our taps. It includes Apple CarPlay…”

When we tested the base Camaro we said, “Our 2016 Chevy Camaro 2LT Coupe had an easy to use infotainment system with an intuitive touch-screen.”  We also liked the cost-saving features that Chevy included, saying, “…if you have an Apple phone you can connect to the Apple Car play via your cable and use Maps instead.  In-car navigation is handy but expensive.  These are sensible alternatives.”

Although we found much to like about the Camaro, we didn’t find much value in its built-in WiFi. We said, “Like all GM vehicles this car had 4G LTE WiFi. In a family car, we understand the value of that. The rugrats can use the internet while you drive (at a cost). In what is effectively a two-seater, it is less of an advantage.” As it turns out, our observation is shared by many. J.D. Power found that only 10% of owners whose vehicles include a “mobile router” use the feature after trying it. Asked why they didn’t use the feature or find it helpful, about half responded that they “did not need” the feature. A quarter said they “did not want to incur further costs to use the technology.”

It is hard to fault automakers for not explaining how the features in their cars work. They create paper manuals, online instructions, videos, and even design in-car demos through the infotainment system. A recent MIT study asked owners how they like to learn about technology. Dealer delivery and dealer sales ranked third and fourth among the options. Interestingly, the J.D. Power study found a direct correlation between how an owner learned to use a feature and how satisfied they were with that feature. J.D. Power says, “For every technology measured in the study, satisfaction is higher when owners learn to operate that technology from their dealer, as opposed to a non-dealer source. ” The study also found that after about 25 minutes of dealer training customers begin to lose interest. J.D. Power concluded that “…dealers have to prioritize their time with what technologies they explain and demonstrate to new owners.”

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John Goreham

John Goreham