Automakers still dogged by Bluetooth glitches, Power study finds

Photo credit: HONDA

UPDATED: 8/28/14 4:49 pm ET - adds details

Bluetooth technology aims to leave drivers hands-free, but some drivers end up connection-free, according to a study of multimedia quality and satisfaction released today.

J.D. Power and Associates found that audio, communication and navigation systems account for the most problems in 2014 vehicles purchased this year.

Power surveyed 86,118 new-vehicle owners from February to May after their first 90 days of ownership. Participants shared feedback on the quality, design and features of their audio, communication and navigation systems.

The biggest problem was voice recognition, which Power detailed earlier this month in a presentation at the CAR Management Briefing Seminar in Traverse City, Mich.

Voice recognition was also the most reported problem among new-vehicle buyers last year, and performance worsened this year, according to Mike VanNieuwkuyk, J.D. Power executive director, global automotive. Problems with voice recognition averaged 8.3 vehicles per 100 this year, compared with 7.6 in 2013 .

The second-most problematic issue for drivers has been Bluetooth, though owners reported fewer problems than in 2013.

Many new-vehicle owners expect a car equipped with functional Bluetooth connectivity, but some have been disappointed. Owners reported 5.7 problems per 100 vehicles, down from 6.3 in 2013.

A number as high as 5.7 is unusual and a “very high level problem,” VanNieuwkuyk said.

Those who faced connectivity problems with Bluetooth claimed that the devices they struggle to connect most frequently are their phones, for which Bluetooth is designed. Car owners use a Bluetooth for hands-free tasks, such as talking on the phone, streaming audio, text messaging, using smartphone apps and GPS navigation.

Bluetooth connectivity was available in 93 percent of participants’ cars, and 86 percent of those surveyed said they have connected via Bluetooth, Power said.

But many of them report connection issues. Out of those who complained of Bluetooth problems, 40 percent , said the built-in system won’t find or recognize a phone or other mobile device.

A smaller, but still substantial, 30 percent of owners said the phone won’t connect automatically when entering the car.

Bluetooth connectivity, along with steering wheel controls, are the technological issues that impact customer satisfaction with a new vehicle the most, according to the Power study.

“More and more consumers are saying, ‘We expect a Bluetooth.’ Most everybody is traveling with their phone,” VanNieuwkuyk said. “Those folks are not getting the value of being able to pair the phone with their vehicle.”

Voice recognition was the most reported problem in the study. More than half (63 percent) of those who had voice recognition issues said the system doesn’t recognize or misinterprets verbal commands. Just less than half (44 percent) said it doesn’t recognize or misinterprets names and words. And, more than a fourth (31 percent) said the system doesn’t recognize or misinterprets numbers, according to the study.

Wind noise and navigation problems were the third- and fourth-most reported issues.

The Multimedia Quality and Satisfaction Study is an annual survey that J.D. Power launched in 2006. The company had previously tracked audio system quality and satisfaction annually beginning in 1995.

The multimedia study is an offshoot of Power’s Initial Quality Study, which looks at all problems with a vehicle after 90 days of ownership, and the APEAL Study, which looks at vehicle attributes that drive satisfaction.

You can reach Hannah Lutz at -- Follow Hannah on Twitter: @hm_lutz

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