For the first time, J.D. Power conducted its 2015 U.S. Tech Choice Study, a survey it used to look at customers’ preferences in car technology and the importance they place on those technologies. With more advanced features finding their ways into less expensive cars, it’s important to look at which features are the most important to offer. According to the results, it’s car safety technology that car buyers want most, and millennials are willing to pay the most to have it.
To conduct this study, J.D. Power surveyed more than 5,300 drivers who purchased or leased a new car within the last five years. Fifty-nine advanced features were included and split into six categories: entertainment and connectivity, comfort and convenience, collision protection, driving assistance, navigation, and energy efficiency. As the press release states, “Technologies that reduce the overall burden of driving and enhance the safety of the vehicle and its occupants receive the most consumer attention.”
When the results were tallied, three of the top five technologies drivers preferred were related to collision protection. Those three are blind spot monitoring, night vision, and enhanced collision mitigation systems. The fourth most preferred technology is a rear view camera, and the fifth is self-healing paint.
“There is a tremendous interest in collision protection technologies across all generations, which creates opportunities across the market,” said Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction and HMI research at J.D. Power. “In contrast, there is very little interest in energy efficiency technologies such as active shutter grille vents and solar glass roofs. Owners aren’t as enthusiastic about having these technologies in their next vehicle because of other efforts automakers are taking to improve fuel economy, as well as relatively low fuel prices at the present time.”
Kolodge’s point about buyers being disinterested in fuel-saving technologies may be a bit surprising at first, but her suggestions as to why that is are sound. Drivers aren’t feeling the pinch in their pockets over gas prices like they used to, and engine technology has taken such a huge leap forward in the past few years that paying for something that may eek out an extra mile per gallon or two is less important. While 30 miles per gallon was considered fuel efficient just a few years ago, regular cars are now hitting 40 miles per gallon without the assistance of diesel engines or hybrid technology.
While infotainment systems are already abundant and working to integrate drivers’ smartphones, smartphone integration may be less important than was previously thought. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have some of the lowest preference scores of any of the technologies listed. Unsurprisingly, iPhone owners strongly disliked Android Auto, and Android owners strongly disliked Apple CarPlay. Perhaps more surprisingly, owners with compatible phones still only had moderate interest in them.
“Owners of luxury vehicles tend to own iOS devices, so for many luxury brands, offering Apple CarPlay may be the best option, realizing they may be leaving out a portion of the market,” said Kolodge. “For non-luxury vehicle brands, the ownership of Apple and Android devices is much closer to an equal split. The solution for those brands may be to offer both operating systems and allow customers to select the option best suited for them.”
When it comes to generational differences, millennials were willing to pay the most for technology, an average of $3,703. Baby boomers were only willing to spend an average of $2,416. While that’s likely due in part to millennials loving all things technology-related, baby boomers spent a large part of their lives learning to drive without the help of those technologies. Drivers who learned to drive in a car with a backup camera are much more likely to think it’s an important feature than drivers who spent 30 years of their lives backing up without one.
The technology available in cars today is wildly different than what was available 15 years ago, and consumer preferences aren’t the same as they were even five years ago. Developing a new car has always moved at a slow pace, but the changes needed to stay on top of advances in technology are moving much faster. Kolodge said: “The auto industry is standing on its head to keep technology up to consumers’ new standards. Those who haven’t done so have seen negative feedback from consumers.”
As the survey shows though, it’s not necessarily smartphone integration and fuel efficiency features that buyers are most interested in. What consumers want is more safety and automation. At least with millennials, it looks like there actually is going to be a strong market for self-driving cars.