Each year, J.D. Power releases the results of its vehicle dependability study of new cars. This year saw similar patterns to last, with audio, communication, entertainment, and navigation (ACEN) system failures forcing customers to view their vehicles as less dependable. This makes sense because, aside from steering, throttle, and braking inputs, the infotainment systems is how we primarily interact with — and relate to — our vehicles.
Although the percentages of problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) were down from last year, electric and hybrid-powered vehicles were subject to more ACEN problems than vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICE).
In the face of experiencing increased reliability issues, EV and hybrid owners are more likely to rebuy from the same car brand again, compared with ICE vehicle drivers. Despite ACEN faults, they’re more enamored with their brand of choice. I call this the “Tesla effect.”
By that I mean, despite the relative high price of their vehicle and poor reliability (compared with ICE vehicles), Tesla owners are overwhelmingly satisfied with their cars. It’s essentially the “No matter what, I was right” mentality, which is pervasive in our society today.
“When we look at the PP100 scores of relatively new safety technologies, it’s clear that manufacturers still have work to do to perfect those systems—particularly premium brands that use them as a major selling point,” Josh Halliburton, Head of European Operations at J.D. Power, said in a prepared statement. “It’s also going to be vital for vehicle makers to win customer trust in this technology if they are to convince potential buyers that fully automated vehicles in the future will be reliable. For example, such buyers are quite likely to question the safety of self-driving cars if brands still struggle with the accuracy of their navigation systems.”
I agree with Halliburton’s extrapolating that infotainment issues could convert into fears around self-driving vehicles. It makes sense. But it doesn’t seem to be translating into reality. Just this week AAA found that Americans are more optimistic about the rise of vehicles capable of automated driving than those with electric powertrains. Though, from that, I concluded that a lack of education about both technologies was at work in both cases.
If nothing else, the issues carmakers face with their disparate and problem-prone infotainment systems underscores arguments for all carmakers to adopt systems created by tech giants, rather than creating their own.
Volvo’s Polestar performance brand recently debuted its latest model with a new Android infotainment system. I am confident it will work more reliably and also be more user-friendly than if Polestar had attempted to create a bespoke system of its own.
I understand why car brands are hesitant to wholesale allow a Google or Apple into their vehicles; it could one day spell the end of the car brand itself. As the cars become automated and electrified, the main user interface in essence becomes the brand. It is literally the touchpoint and connection between the user and the brand. At that point, what use does the tech company have for the carmaker?
The car company would essentially become the coach builder for the tech company. Automakers want to avoid that. However, if you look to the air travel industry, it’s not a bad business model. For example, Boeing and Airbus seem to be doing OK.