Vehicle quality is the best it's ever been. Ever.
Owners made that very clear in the J.D. Power 2018 Initial Quality Study, and this was the fifth year in a row that we have seen the industry improve. All is good, right?
For many owners, the answer is, "Uh, no." There is a cacophony of noise from the many driver-assistance systems on their new vehicles demanding attention — and they don't like it.
These systems — among them, cruise control (primarily adaptive cruise), lane-departure warning, collision-avoidance/alert and blind-spot warning — are becoming more commonplace in every model on every showroom floor. With each new technology comes the possibility for problems — as well as the opportunity to delight — and these driver-assistance systems are no exception.
J.D. Power sees consumer problems increase noticeably with these technologies. Is this a hurdle that automakers must overcome? Absolutely! Especially when those same technologies form the basis for even more advanced systems coming rapidly down the road, including automated vehicles.
Driver-assistance problems increased 57 percent in 2017, as measured by the Initial Quality Study. And this year, the number of problems rose 17 percent.
Some of the increase is caused simply by more people experiencing the features. This is reflected in the similar but lagging pattern between premium and nonpremium vehicles. With increasing penetration comes an inherent potential for more quality issues.
Areas of particular concern:
Blind-spot monitoring penetration is increasing 9 to 10 percentage points per year, with problem levels increasing by 66 percent year over year.
Collision-avoidance/alert system penetration is increasing 12 to 14 percentage points per year, with problems increasing by 50 percent year over year.
Lane-departure warning system penetration has increased 14 percentage points per year, with problems increasing by 50 percent year over year.
This is an alarming pattern that needs to be addressed. If consumers are concerned or even confused by these interactions, it will be nearly impossible to get them to adopt fully automated vehicles.
Much of the increase is due to unfamiliarity. For many consumers, this is their first exposure to driver-assistance systems. Also, nearly half of new-vehicle owners walk out of the dealership without any coaching on how to use the systems.
Driver-assistance systems have extremely complex parameters defining the operating conditions, and these are not standard across the industry. Furthermore, it is critical that owners understand their role using these systems as well as what the vehicle can and cannot do. Over time, this will build the appropriate amount of trust in the system.
J.D. Power has frequently stated the importance of a positive first experience with these lower-level automated systems. This will determine the trajectory toward accepting higher levels of automation.
It's in the best interest of every automaker to teach consumers how to use these driver-assistance systems and build the appropriate level of reliance on them to improve overall vehicle safety. Doing so will inspire the next evolution, or what the industry will call the next level of automation.