5 fancy in-vehicle technologies drivers don't even use

August 31, 2015 09:17 AM

If you have shopped for or own a newer car, you know they come with tons of tech. An authoritative new study finds much of it gets a "meh" from drivers.

Manufacturers had hoped consumers would be thrilled by in-vehicle concierges that flag nearby restaurants or gas stations. But that feature ranked as the least-used of all the gee-whiz offerings on the dashboard. Of the 4,200 drivers surveyed by J.D. Power, 43 percent said they never once used the concierge feature. Here are the other big losers, along with the percentage of drivers who completely ignored them:

  • Built-in apps, 32 percent.
  • Head-up displays, 33 percent.
  • Automatic parking systems, 35 percent.
  • Mobile routers, 38 percent. 

You might be surprised to learn that parallel parking assist isn't a recent innovation: Cadillac offered a system way back in the 1950s, Technology Tell learned in stumbling across an old newsreel. The system, actually patented two decades earlier, involved lowering the spare tire so the car could turn in its own radius. We don't have data on how many Caddy owners eschewed what must've been an astonishing feature for the time, but it's clear the concept never caught on.

"Minor damage may break the bank if expensive tech is involved."

Moving back to 2015, here's another nugget from the J.D. Power survey: At least 1 in 5 drivers failed to use half of the 33 features being studied.

Younger drivers, especially, found in-vehicle tech redundant.

"In many cases," said Kristin Kolodge, a research executive at J.D. Power, "owners simply prefer to use their smartphone or tablet because it meets their needs; they're familiar with the device and it's accurate."

Of the 33 features being examined, the study singled out 14 that at least 20 percent of drivers did not want in their next car. These features included Google Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. 

It isn't just manufacturers' pride that might be hurt by these findings. Big money is at stake as vehicle makers bet billions that consumer demand for technology will transfer to the transportation sector.

The study focused on people who had owned or leased their cars for 90 days. It's possible that drivers would come to appreciate some of these tech features given more than three months to get to know their new cars. And even if 1 in 5 drivers don't want a given feature, that leaves 80 percent who might.

Drivers do embrace practical features
The J.D. Power study isn't all bad news for research and development teams. Drivers reported making heavy use of three features in particular:

  • adaptive cruise control.
  • blind-spot alerts.
  • repair diagnostics.

The first of these automatically creates a safe following distance if you have cruise control locked in on long drives. Blind spots can occur in any car depending on the driver's height, but they are especially severe in vehicles with large pillars, so it's no surprise consumers are embracing features that detect and warn about these dangers. Drivers seem to appreciate contemporary cars' abilities to tell you when they need an oil change, when tire pressure has dipped or when vehicle maintenance is due. 

Repair costs rise
Another phenomena explored by this year's J.D. Power Driver Interactive Vehicle Experience Report involves the cost when something goes wrong with a tech-stuffed chassis. An insurance expert at J.D. Power pointed out that a small dent to a bumper, which might have been easy for an auto body shop to buff out, might cost thousands if it breaks a parking camera.

As electronic control units, the brains for today's high-tech vehicles, become more complex, it's also more and more unwise for shade tree mechanics to mess with them instead of taking them to an auto repair shop.

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