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In-car technology makes things easier. Or does it? Photo by Adobe Stock

You Are Not Alone: People Want In-Car Technology to be Easier


Last week, I had a vexing experience while test-driving a new crossover vehicle at a launch event. I wanted to turn down the radio volume, but no matter how much I or my co-driver searched the sleek new center stack with dual screens, we couldn’t find the volume knob. I found a toggle on the steering wheel, eventually, and I was able to silence the electronic dance music that was piercing my brain. When we arrived at our driver change point, I found a product specialist from the manufacturer, who casually pointed out the small volume knob in the center console – where I had never thought to look for it. I was blinded by the flashy interface in front of me, and despite my experience in a myriad of new vehicles, I still couldn’t complete a basic operation without assistance.

My recent experience notwithstanding, it appears as if manufacturers are actually getting better at making their in-car multimedia systems less frustrating for consumers. According to the 2018 Multimedia Quality and Satisfaction Study from J.D. Power, “the number of reported problems with in-car audio, communication, entertainment, and navigation (ACEN) technologies has decreased for a third consecutive year.”

“ACEN” is a new acronym to me – another to add to a long list of abbreviations that muddy the waters of communication in the auto business. 

The Multimedia Quality and Satisfaction Study (What? No acronym?) polls new vehicle owners about the quality, design, and features of their ACEN system after the first 90 days of ownership. Multimedia systems have been the number one source of complaint for new car owners for six consecutive years. As overall vehicle quality improves across the board and ACEN systems grow ever more complex and sophisticated, these systems, which are supposed to make our lives easier and more relaxing, start buyers’ blood boiling.

Part of the frustration lies in the paradox that most consumers are unwilling to recognize. People want a system that has a vast amount of capability – delivering audio from multiple sources, navigation with voice control, smartphone integration, HVAC controls, traffic alerts, maintenance reminders, text message display, and a whole lot more. But people are unwilling to take the time to learn how to use their systems to get the best functionality. How many buyers are willing to leaf through the owner’s manual when they can just pound on the dash in frustration?

Another source of frustration must be laid at the feet of the car dealers. Once a deal is made and the papers are signed, the delivery process for a new car should include a deep dive into the ACEN system. Sales professionals should be experts in the programming and operation of infotainment, and dealerships should find innovative ways to communicate with their customers about the capabilities of the systems. Too often, the car pulls off of the lot with little to no training or guidance having been performed.

And new buyers will continue to complain about ACEN systems -- until manufacturers respond by dumbing the systems down, limiting choices and capability to avoid potential customer frustration.

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