TOKYO -- Japanese suppliers of information and entertainment systems score highest in quality, says a recent study by J.D. Power and Associates.
These systems, including satellite radio and navigation devices, are increasingly must-have features in vehicles. About 66 percent of drivers now have satellite radio, up from 59 percent in 2009. Factory-installed navigation systems are in 30 percent of vehicles, up from 25 percent.
The findings, from J.D. Power's 2010 U.S. Multimedia Quality and Satisfaction Study, underscore the rapid penetration of such infotainment technology into the U.S. market.
High-tech onboard entertainment and navigation systems got an early boost in Japan through the country's electronics industry. Today the technology is common in that country even in low-budget compact cars. Supplier Denso Corp. estimates that 60 percent of all cars in Japan have onboard navigation.
In the category of AM/FM/Multi-CD Changer/Satellite Radio, Japanese brands held the top three positions for quality in the U.S. survey. Fujitsu Ten had the best score with only 2.1 problems per 100 vehicles, followed by Pioneer with 2.6 glitches and Clarion with 3.4.
Add car navigation to the system and Japanese supplier Denso Corp. captures three of the top four slots. Paired with Panasonic's audio system, Denso's navigation software recorded the fewest problems per 100 vehicles at 6.4, while Denso's partnership with Delphi was second with 8.7 problems.
Denso also teamed with Fujitsu Ten to grab the No. 4 spot with 10.5 complaints, behind a Delphi system that had 9.4 problems.
"It is not surprising to see Japanese brands doing well in the United States," says Ashvin Chotai, managing director of Intelligence Automotive Asia in London. "Japanese companies are much stronger in all areas of consumer electronics and have been responsible for many of the groundbreaking developments which have then been feeding into cars."
Such technology was slow to take off in the United States for several reasons. There was less need for it in North America, where a grid system of roads is easier to navigate than the tangle of narrow streets seen in Japan. Also, detailed mapping of all roads in a large country such as the United States is more complex, says Mitsuru Kurokawa, an auto analyst at IHS Automotive.
U.S. drivers are warming to such amenities, increasingly in midpriced vehicles.
The take rate for navigation systems in midsegment cars is expected to climb to 25 percent by 2015, from around 15 percent last year, predicts Harman International Industries Inc., a Washington manufacturer of automotive audio equipment.
The latest push is to offer compatibility between the car's infotainment system and hand-held gadgets such as mobile phones or MP3 players, suppliers say.
Results of the J.D. Power study back that trend. Among the survey's findings was that the most sought-after onboard sound system was one that could play digital music formats, such as MP3 files.
The study also found that the hottest feature is steering wheel controls for audio equipment. More than eight in 10 owners of new vehicles want such fingertip access.