Automakers Are Spending Billions on Tech That People Don’t Use

Apple CarPlay dashboard
Source: Apple

While cars slowly morph into rolling smart phones on wheels, there is a growing fear that manufacturers aren’t offering us all the apps we rightfully deserve. The next big thing is right around the corner, so maybe it may be better to wait to buy that new car. This is a genuine concern in today’s modern, technology-rich 21st century, and while automakers scramble to keep up with the times, they fail to recognize that all of this may be a wee-bit of overkill.

Automotive News reports that “a new study from J.D. Power suggests that automakers are investing billions into technologies that a considerable number of drivers aren’t using,” adding that “at least 20% of new-vehicle owners have never used 16 of the 33 technology features measured.” That’s like downloading tons of games on Steam or on Xbox Live Arcade, and then only playing half of them every once in a while.

2015 Chevrolet Bolt EV Interior – Bolt EV Connect
Source: GM

Supposedly, 43% of people admitted to never using their in-vehicle concierge services, and 38% said they never used their mobile routers – a HUGE selling point for certain automakers like General Motors. But it doesn’t stop there: The report shows that only 65% of drivers use automatic parking systems, and 33% of Americans refuse to use the head-up display like the one we liked so much in the Kia K900. That’s like buying a top of the line smart phone, and then refusing to use any of the apps that are pre-installed on it because your old Trigonometry calculator still fits in your pocket.

Speaking of apps, a staggering 32% of people polled reported that they have never used a single app in their car, which means that a third of all drivers have access to some of the most cutting-edge technology imaginable and they are refusing to use it. So if this is the case, what causes them to want to miss out in the first place?

According to the report, certain technological features have a “brief 30-day window for gaining acceptance among drivers.” Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. automotive quality for J.D. Power explains that if owners don’t start using tech features during that initial timeframe, they probably never will. Some of this surely has to do with older, less tech-savvy drivers not wanting to bother with the features that make a modern car so great, and surely there are those select few individuals out there who don’t really care about connectivity as long as the damn thing is reliable and comes in an automatic. But these are still startling high numbers, and with a ton of funding going into each electronic upgrade, you have to wonder if automakers are starting think twice about what tech freebies they throw at you.

2016 Honda Pilot Interior
Source: Honda

Dealerships play a crucial role in the early stages of ownership. If a dealer doesn’t explain a feature, owners have a higher likelihood of never using it, Automotive News said. So ask questions, because occasionally certain features won’t get activated properly, resulting in owners not knowing that the technology is there in the first place. This is why Stephens stresses that the initial enthusiasm people have upon buying a vehicle is “one of the reasons that 30-day window is so important.”

“People tend to be really excited when they get a new vehicle. They tend to try out a lot of different features, and that’s how they gain acceptance” Stephens says, because “that’s when they’ll learn the most.” There’s a heightened level of interest in the vehicle you get when you are shopping around for a new car, the same feeling you get when you are considering which app to download or what video game to buy.

2015 Acura RDX Interior GPS
Source: Acura

The report was based on responses from more than 4,200 vehicle owners and lessees, and took place from April to June of this year. It also examined features that drivers did not want at all in their cars; J.D. Power says there are 14 features that more than 20% of owners admitted that they could go without in their next vehicle, with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, various in-vehicle concierge services, and in-vehicle voice texting topping the list. This is coming from a bunch of old fogies, right?

Actually no, it’s not. A surprisingly high number of Gen-Y car buyers (anyone born between 1977 and 1994) said that there are 23 tech features that they don’t want at all in a car — J.D. Power says that almost all of these unwanted technologies are “related to entertainment and connectivity,” which correlates to “millions of dollars in lost value for both consumers and the manufacturers.”

Ask a typical hipster why they don’t use their compact crossover’s infotainment system and they will likely say they “didn’t find it useful,” or claim that it “came as part of a package on my current vehicle and I didn’t want it.” This means that a tech-savvy, well-trained dealership staff are going to be one hell of a hot commodity in forthcoming years.

Stephens says that there’s value in the Apple approach with it’s Genius Bar, where tech experts can help consumers. When you’re picking up that brand-new vehicle, you don’t want to worry about anything else besides getting home in time for dinner. Offering buyers the ability to come back whenever they please is a great way to relieve unnecessary buying stress, and gives the driver the chance to experience the car so that they can come back with whatever questions they feel need answering. This is a great approach — the Genius Bar has proved to be a great selling point for Apple, and having online support while playing a video game makes buying it all that more rewarding.

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