Kia Motors America has a strong incentive to stay attuned to the rapidly changing tastes for in-car communications because it has a high percentage of young buyers, said Michael Sprague, the company's vice president of marketing.
This year Kia launched UVO, a voice-activated information and entertainment system, on the redesigned 2011 Sorento compact SUV. Kia expects UVO to be particularly appealing to young buyers who like to stay linked with friends and family through electronic devices they carry aboard their vehicles, Sprague said.
UVO was developed with Microsoft Inc. and is similar to Ford Motor Co.'s successful Sync communication system. Both UVO and Sync are powered by Microsoft's Windows Embedded Auto software platform.
Sprague said the demographics of Kia buyers make electronics a critical selling point. He said 16.3 percent of the brand's buyers last year were so-called Millennials, consumers between the ages of 18 and 29. The industry average for that group is 14.8 percent, he said.
Those numbers actually could be higher because many younger drivers have their vehicles purchased by their parents or have parents co-sign loans, Sprague said.
A recent Microsoft survey of 1,100 Millennials conducted by the independent market research firm Wakefield Research confirmed that young people like their onboard electronics.
Moreover, they desire a more high-tech dealership experience that makes computers more accessible as they go through the buying process, said Microsoft's David Graff. Graff, based in suburban Detroit, is director of U.S. automotive and industrial equipment solutions.
In the Wakefield survey, 67 percent of Millennials said the most important electronic feature for their vehicles was a global positioning system. Next was a port for music players (54 percent), followed by software to track fuel consumption (44 percent).
Those features bested Bluetooth, 36 percent; satellite radio, 32 percent; and an in-vehicle hard drive, 21 percent.
The 1,100 survey participants took part through e-mail responses or a Web chat April 12-18.
As buyers, young people said they wanted to see the same things on a showroom computer screen that a salesperson can see.
Graff suggested that dealers might consider making computers or touch screens available so buyers can see data or research features.