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J.D. Power chart shows increase in interest in various semi-autonomous driving assist features from 2012 to 2014. Low-speed collision avoidance, which helps a car maker earn a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, showed the highest numbers and is available on many new models.

Voice recognition draws high interest but disappointment in J.D. Power survey

Automobile overall quality has improved so much over recent years that J.D. Power had to rewrite its survey to reflect what really concerns motorists with their new cars. However, anyone who's spent much time in the industry knows that, although all the traditional problem categories declined in number, issues with multimedia and navigation systems went up. This J.D. Power finding was affirmed by Renee Stephens, Vice President, at the Los Angeles Auto Show's Connected Car Expo.

The category, labeled ACEN (Audio, Communication, Entertainment and Navigation) was 23% of the average of 154 "problems" in the 2014 survey. The major complaint with navigation was that its operation is not intuitive. As voice recognition navigation comes into greater use and is being touted as "the great enabler," it might seem that this would reduce the unhappiness. However, almost one-third of those "vehicle quality" complaints actually dealt with the voice-recognition system, that it doesn't recognize or (even more frustratingly) misinterprets driver's voice commands. One complaint that typified the issue: "I just had a good 10-minute argument with my car's voice control." Another: "It often takes 2-3 tries to get the system to get a new phone number right."

Although systems that fail the customers' expectations may impact some cars more than others, the issue is so ubiquitous that this may reflect the availability and installation rates on those cars that offer the systems. Ford's Sync was the first popularly priced system of its type and BMW's I-Drive turn-knob for almost all center stack functions was the first of its genre. Both suffered from customer confusion. Even climate-control systems have generated customer dissatisfaction, and still account for 7% of J.D. Power-reported problems. The Mobile Air Conditioning Society's technical staff reports periodically on climate-control system complaints that simply are functions of complex control strategies that motorists happen to dislike or at least do not understand.

Feature controls and displays, a generalized area that covers multiple functions, was the subject of 12% of complaints. Seats were another 10%, but that covers a wide range of possibilities from comfort to adjustability.

"Natural language" has appeal

Despite the problems with the vehicle's voice-recognition system, J.D. Power found that 70% were interested in "natural language" voice recognition, Stephens observed. The percentage was a still-impressive 57% when a price point of $125 for smartphone integration was inserted, and even 44% with a $500 price. Features with little interest were a tactile touch screen (22%), hand gesture controls (15%) and a feature as eye-tracking (22%). The motorists surveyed (72%) did appreciate such features as surround view-rear camera systems.

The idea of semi-autonomous driving does appeal to 24% overall. Although that means that 76% is not showing interest, J.D. Power did include a $3000 price point, so cost was factored into the decisions. However, individual features of semi-autonomous driving are building appeal, with 62% in favor of low-speed collision avoidance and 49% interested in emergency braking and steering. The interest also is related to the fact that the motorists surveyed are spending a lot of time in their cars, at three hours, 16 minutes each weekday, almost two hours per weekend day, for a total of 20 hours, 18 minutes per week, according to a study by Arbitron, which measures out-of-home advertising exposure.

Singles show the greatest interest in semi-autonomous driving--- 36%, followed by families with children (33%). Divorced people had the lowest interest, at just 12%.

Although consumers surveyed by J.D. Power generally defined autonomous driving as just sitting in the car while it goes along on the desired route, there was acceptance for the idea of being ready to take control if the system dictates. However, some consider autonomous operation not even having a driver in the car.  This scenario has been mentioned by Ford as an introductory phase, like using a remote control for out-of-the-car automatic parking, including into and out of a packed garage that has no room for the driver to open a car door to get out or in. Another, suggested by Land Rover, is to permit the off-road driver who is alone to exit the vehicle and use a remote to raise and lower and steer it through an area with major obstacles such as rock piles.

Slow phase-in seen

Stephens said it was apparent that a gradual phase-in to semi-autonomous driving was necessary to create the building blocks that would develop customer trust.

In a related session, Jeff Klei, President of Continental North America, raised the autonomous drive cost question when he noted that $1500 seemed to be close to a price ceiling, according to surveys. "I can't even put the sensors in the car" for that amount of money, so he viewed autonomous drive adoption as a slow process for that reason alone. Further, at this time he added, 66% of those surveyed said they did have some qualms about being in an autonomous drive vehicle. "Maybe 95% of accidents are preventable {with autonomous drive}, but the first accident will be a field day for lawyers. So yes, there will be roadblocks, but we'll get around them," he told the expo audience.

He noted the obvious training issue of having the driver know when to engage, disengage, and re-engage with vehicle control, and having the vehicle doing a lot of things also make those decisions in timely fashion, even if/when bandwidth drops dramatically. He saw the need for major investment by government bodies as "huge" and perhaps too complex for many cities.

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