A J.D. Power study caused a buzz by saying that many drivers aren't using the new technologies that automakers are investing billions in.
Power's first Driver Interactive Vehicle Experience Report, released in August, said at least 20 percent of new-vehicle owners never use 16 of the 33 technology features it measured. But some automakers view that as a positive.
"The headline is '20 percent of people don't use certain features.' That means 80 percent of them do!" said Phil Abram, GM's executive director of connectivity. "To be hitting at 80 percent? Holy cow!
"I loaded up TVs with all kinds of features -- I used to run the TV business for Sony in the U.S. If we had a 50 percent hit rate, we were skipping down the hallways. I'm really happy with 80 percent."
Likewise, Cason Grover, Hyundai's senior group manager of cross-carline planning, said the automaker already has "taken out the items that are the easy ones to give up."
"Even if 20 percent say they haven't used it, 80 percent do," Grover added.
Still, the study highlights one of the toughest challenges in the infotainment space: How do automakers decide which features to offer?
Infotainment presents a delicate balancing act for automakers. They want to stand out from the pack with pioneering features without overly complicating things for motorists. Yet they can't turn to consumers for a detailed forecast of what the future of infotainment should look like.
GM's Abram says automakers must understand how people live, not simply ask them what they want -- because, with new technology, people may not be able to fathom exactly what they want.
"Innovations that change the behavior of the customer -- those tend to be the ones that define great products and great innovations," he said. "You own it, and now you do things differently than you did before because of that.
"You can't ask people that because they can't imagine that new world. But once you give it to them, it goes from 'Why do I need it?' to 'I can't live without it.'"
Doling out new infotainment perks requires extensive probing that includes internal research with focus groups and test trials, along with consultants' studies. Some automakers collect insights from telematics services to spot trends. Grover said Hyundai always has an eye on the competition to see who's moving first to market with certain capabilities.
"We look at the capability of our current system," he said. "Sometimes, we can add things in the middle of a life cycle. Other times, we need to wait until the next generation."