Infiniti drivers report the highest satisfaction levels in the industry for their factory installed navigation systems in the G35.
But that may be due in part to the 9.5-gigabyte computer hard drive that powers the Xanavi system and helps calculate routes quickly.
It may also be because buyers of the luxury cars are better educated about how to use the systems, said a J.D. Power and Associates spokesman who informally estimates that only one out of five navigation system buyers takes the time to read the manual.
J.D. Power ranked manufacturer-installed navigation systems and reported results for 68 different vehicles. Some vehicles with too small a sample size were not rated by the 2007 Navigation Usage and Satisfaction Study.
The Xanavi system in particular scored rather well on ease-of-use and speed, the time it takes to calculate a route, recalculate a route or find an address, said Mike Marshall, director of automotive emerging technologies at J.D. Power.
Basic levels of use
The survey revealed that most users tap their navigation system at fairly basic levels.
They enjoy seeing a map overview rather than just turn-by-turn directions. They are most satisfied when they can connect to a live operator who will take their destination and provide automated directions. They like systems that include the newest technology but are often frustrated by how hard it is to use.
The survey, released Monday, tapped 14,384 owners who recently purchased or leased new vehicles with factory-installed systems.
Denso Corp.s system in the Lexus IS 250/350 ranked second and Alpines system in the Acura TL took third place.
Suppliers all over the place
Suppliers such as Denso and Alpine didnt just appear at the top of the list. Alpine also held four of the bottom five slots for satisfaction; Denso systems were in three of the 10 least-satisfying systems.
Part of the disparity comes because the same supplier may have different technology packages on the market. Marshall also said that suppliers are in many cases limited by how the OEM wishes to handle navigation system integration.
I think a truly successful system needs to be a cooperative effort between the Tier 1 supplier and the OE, he said.
Nearly 60 percent of owners reported problems with their navigation system, but only 5 percent took the systems back to dealers for service, the survey revealed. More than half of customers reported using their systems more often than twice a week. Drivers who used their systems the most were also those who reported higher satisfaction levels.
Marshall said a good chunk of problems drivers reported show lack of education about how the systems work and, particularly, limited knowledge about the maps that are used by the systems.
A lot of people dont know that once you get your vehicle, the vintage on the map data can be anywhere from eight to sixteen months old, depending on how long that vehicles been sitting on the lot, he said.
Customer reports of missing map data, incorrect route guidance or the inability to find a particular address may be more related to the map source than the onboard navigation system itself, Marshall said. While some navigation system manuals describe how to obtain updates, car owners rarely take the time to freshen their data.
Dealerships, too, offer a spotty approach to customer education about the systems.
My finding through qualitative work, focus groups and one-on-one interviews is that the level of customer education varies drastically from dealership to dealership and make to make, Marshall said.
More education needed
Navigation systems are getting more capable, but customers need more education about them before overall satisfaction rates will rise, Marshall said. The J.D. Power survey found an industry average satisfaction of 747 points on a 1,000-point scale. New technologies, including voice recognition (on 47 percent of systems) and real-time traffic (on nearly 18 percent of systems), are valued by customers who want the latest gadget but also are one of the major sources of complaints.
Among significant complaints, voice recognition frustrates many users who find their commands misunderstood or who are given an irrelevant voice prompt. Real-time traffic, meanwhile, suffers from scanty coverage in rural areas and spotty coverage off the freeway.