In an effort to appeal to an increasingly wired customer base, automakers are adding more infotainment and connectivity technology to their vehicles, blurring the line between car and computer. But more consumers are finding it difficult to use those systems.
It is a growing challenge for all automakers, both foreign and domestic. And it is one that is likely to take its toll on rankings of several brands in this year’s quality survey by Consumer Reports, which is due out Monday.
The annual study, which relies on feedback from the magazine’s readers, was originally designed to highlight actual defects with cars and trucks. But in recent years, it has highlighted the growing frustration many motorists feel as automakers replace old-fashioned knobs and levers with touchscreens and voice-activated computer systems.
“Those functions are still in the car, but the way you get to them has changed — and in many cases, it has changed for the worse. You may have to go through three screens just to adjust the climate control,” said analyst Jim Hall of 2953 Analytics LLP. “It’s not a quality issue. It’s far more important than quality. It’s people’s perception of the usability of their cars.”
Earlier this week, Consumer Reports panned the new Infiniti Q50, in part because the magazine found its new “InTouch dual-screen controls are slow to respond” to driver inputs.
Ford Motor Co., which was the first mass-market manufacturer to bring an advanced in-car infotainment and connectivity system to market in form of Sync and MyFord Touch, has seen its quality ratings drop dramatically in recent surveys. But the automaker was also heralded as a technology leader.
“We have seen a lot of progress with the quality of our advanced connectivity technologies,” said Ford spokesman Wes Sherwood, adding that his company has rolled out a number of upgrades to its system in response to customer concerns and complaints, adding that the majority of owners are satisfied with the system today.
“We want to continue to deliver the kind of advanced technologies that customers clearly want while continue to improve the quality.”
Now, other automakers that are following Ford’s lead are encountering similar problems.
Chrysler Group LLC’s Uconnect system ruffled few feathers until the automaker decided to upgrade it on new models, such as 2013 and 2014 Ram Trucks and the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The added features created problems for some consumers.
“Chrysler Group listens to Uconnect customers and has responded with a software update,” the company said in a statement to owners posted on its website on Oct. 14. “You speak, we listen. You want improved voice recognition technology. Done! You want better speed and accuracy. Got it!”
The challenge is even more acute for luxury brands, because they often strive to give their customers the most cutting-edge technology possible.
Hall said Cadillac’s Cue system is problematic because many commands require users to navigate through multiple screens to access them.
“Cue is awful because it is, in a lot of ways, the antithesis of luxury,” he said. “It is not a sound interface for a car moving 74 miles per hour on I-75.”
But Cadillac said professional critics have been far more, well, critical of the system than actual owners, because Cue allows motorists to customize it so that the commands they use most are more easily accessible.
“The feedback we have from car buyers is pretty good. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good,” said spokesman David Caldwell. “We’re trying to conform to the driver instead of making the driver conform to the car.”