I drive an average of about sixty different new cars per year, and every end of the price spectrum is represented. I’ve driven bare-bones transportation, complete with crank-down windows and manual door locks. On the other end of the scale, I’ve driven European sports cars and luxury sedans that cost more than my first house; hell, I’ve even driven some that cost more than my second house. In between is the pond that most automakers want to be the big fish in, and I’ll call that “cars that most of us would buy”. In order to grab the attention of new car buyers, automakers are packing a lot of content and technology into mainstream vehicles these days. Every car, it seems, is now available with a “premium audio system”, and you can get most models with factory navigation. Back up cameras (or at a minimum, back up sensors) are now common, and Bluetooth integration generally includes both cell phone and audio. All of these features were once the exclusive domain of luxury cars, but they’ve now trickled down to the common man.
As nice as these features are, they add expense to a car and don’t necessarily represent desired features. J.D. Power and Associates recently completed a survey that asked consumers which technologies were important, after pricing was revealed. The results are surprising, at least to me:
– 55% chose remote diagnostics as the most desired technology
– 52% wanted non-brand-specific premium audio
– 50% wanted wireless connectivity
– 46% wanted a rear view camera system
– 45% wanted blind spot detection
– Nearly 60% were willing to spend $200 for full integration of their MP3 player
– 54% said they’d be willing to subscribe to satellite radio at $12.95 per month
– 45% would pay $300 to use their smartphone as a “remote control” for their car
So what does this mean? Consumers want technology that makes them feel safer or more confident behind the wheel, and they don’t necessarily want things like expensive integrated navigation systems and rain sensing wipers. While a single study probably won’t change the way that automakers build or package cars, at least someone finally took the time to ask consumers what’s important technology and what’s tech for tech’s sake. As for me, keep all the electronic gadgets, but give me an auxiliary input for the audio, all-wheel drive, a butter-smooth and precise six-speed manual gearbox and lots of horsepower.