Vehicle Software and Technology Challenges Need to be Addressed

David Sargent

Software and technology challenges have been setbacks for vehicle initial quality this year, particularly in relation to new-vehicle buyer and lessee evaluations of launch models (those that are all-new or have had major redesigns) after the first 90 days of ownership, according to the 2011 U.S. Initial Quality Study (IQS). Analysis of study data finds that the decline in vehicle launch quality is particularly noticeable in two of eight areas*: engine/transmission and audio/entertainment/navigation.

There are two primary causes for these quality declines:

• First, with high fuel prices and more stringent government regulations, automakers are designing engine and transmission software to make their vehicles as economical as possible. However, this reconfiguration sometimes leads to the engine or transmission “hesitating” when accelerating or changing gears, which is noticed by consumers more often than in the past.

• Secondly, automakers are also accelerating the introduction of multimedia technology into their vehicles, including “hands-free” and voice-activation systems. Many consumers are attracted by the new technology—which is perceived to enhance convenience and safety—but some say that their system is not intuitive and/or does not always function properly.

While overall vehicle quality continues to improve, the introduction of new technology is expected to continue to pose challenges for automakers. Problem rates for audio/entertainment/navigation systems in 2011 are 18% higher than in 2010, and 28% higher than in 2009.

Clearly, consumers are interested in having new technology in their vehicles, but automakers must ensure that the technology is ready for prime time. The successful companies will be those that can take this incredibly complex technology and make it reliable, seamless and easy for consumers to operate while they are driving. There is an understandable desire to bring these technologies to market quickly, but automakers must be careful to walk before they run.David Sargent, vice president of global vehicle research at J.D. Power and Associates

*Eight major categories evaluated in the 2011 Initial Quality Study (IQS) are: Exterior; Features/Controls/Displays; Engine/Transmission; Audio/Entertainment/Navigation; Interior; The Driving Experience; HVAC; and Seats.

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