J.D. Power pans in-car voice recognition systems

J.D. Power's Kristin Kolodge: "The environment of a vehicle is brutal, and we can’t overlook that."

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- In-car voice recognition systems work so poorly that automakers should give up trying to add new features and go back to the basics, said Kristin Kolodge, J.D. Power’s executive director of driver interaction.

Earlier this year, the consulting firm’s annual Initial Quality Study of vehicle models sold in the United States identified voice activation as the most common type of malfunction. Twenty-three percent of problems reported were related to audio, communication, entertainment or navigation -- sometimes dubbed infotainment.

On-third of those infotainment glitches were caused by voice recognition, Kolodge said today during a presentation at the 2014 Management Briefing Seminars.

“Any way you slice it, that’s a failing grade,” she said. “Only one of the motorists we talked to wanted more features. The majority just wanted their systems to work.”

Kolodge noted that in-car systems often don’t work as well as voice recognition systems in smart phones. Part of the problem, she acknowledged, was that in-car systems are vulnerable to road noise, engine noise and passenger conversations.

“The environment of a vehicle is brutal, and we can’t overlook that,” she said.

Automakers should focus on the most basic functions -- such as phone calls, navigation and audio -- and make sure those work well before adding other functions.

For other vehicle parts, a high defect rate would be unacceptable, she noted, "yet somehow it’s acceptable for voice recognition, and it’s been acceptable for years. We’ve got to get back to the basics.”

You can reach David Sedgwick at dsedgwick@crain.com

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