Technology woes frustrate car owners


DETROIT — General Motors and Toyota posted solid marks in the dependability of three-year-old vehicles, but consumer frustrations with wireless connections, navigation and voice-recognition software persist across the automotive industry, according to a J.D. Power and Associates report Wednesday.

Lexus, Porsche, Buick and Toyota captured the top four spots in the annual vehicle dependability study, which measures owners' complaints per hundred vehicles and was made public one day after a similar survey by Consumer Reports magazine. These vehicles all had fewer than 114 problems per hundred, with Lexus (95) and Porsche (97) setting the pace.

The study also recognizes standout vehicles in nine car and 10 light-truck segments. From that perspective, GM had eight segment-leading models, while Toyota and its Lexus luxury brand had six.

But an overriding theme of the study, again, was that consumer frustration with the flood of technology into their vehicles is not easing. The industry average of problems per 100 vehicles rose to 152 from 147 last year, and many of the issues were related to controls, entertainment choices and voice-recognition glitches in touch screens or hands-free smartphone use.

"The increase in technology-related problems has two sources," said Renee Stephens, J.D. Power vice president of U.S. automotive. "Usability problems that customers reported during their first 90 days of ownership are still bothering them three years later, in ever-higher numbers."

Stephens said frequent complaints centered on Bluetooth, the wireless connection between smartphones and vehicles, and voice-recognition software that is meant to translate voice commands into text or directions for navigation.

In the last year, however, GM, Hyundai and others have begun to offer to make their connectivity technology compatible with either Apple Car Play or Android Auto. These systems in effect replicate the non video apps from one's phone on the vehicle's center-mounted screen.

Because this year's survey focused on three-year-old cars and trucks, there's no way to measure whether that trend is solving the issues that are frustrating drivers.

"The technologies people were most satisfied with were collision-avoidance features such as lane-departure alerts or blind-spot monitoring," Stephens said.

J.D. Power researchers gathered responses from 33,560 drivers of 2013 model-year vehicles interviewed between October and December 2015.

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