Car buyers befuddled by technology

The Genesis Mint concept car at the New York International Auto Show this year. The South Korean brand has performed well in terms of initial quality in the survey.
The Genesis Mint concept car at the New York International Auto Show this year. The South Korean brand has performed well in terms of initial quality in the survey. PHOTO: REUTERS

A survey finds that newfangled systems in cars can cause confusion among some drivers

New-car owners are indicating more problems with the very technology meant to help them better navigate the roads.

Advanced driver assistance systems have become more widespread but are growing increasingly complex and troublesome for car owners, global market research company J.D. Power found in an annual survey on the first 90 days of car ownership.

The newfangled systems befuddling car buyers include lane departure warning, blind spot detection, collision avoidance systems and other safety-minded innovations.

"Consumers are sometimes confused as to whether they're on or not - or confused about how to set them," Mr Dave Sargent, vice-president of global automotive research at J.D. Power, said of the systems.

J.D. Power, a unit of London-based XIO Group, expects those complaints to recede as consumers become more familiar with the technology.

"We don't want to raise a big safety flag because, for the most part, it's not that the systems aren't doing what they're supposed to do," Mr Sargent said.

The industry average stayed flat in this year's Initial Quality Study at 93 problems for every 100 vehicles, which marks the first year of zero improvement since 2014. More brands declined than improved over the past 12 months, with 18 worsening and 13 moving up.

In addition to issues with new technology, J.D. Power said an uptick in traditional problems is also to blame for the lack of improvement - including brake and suspension noises, engines not starting, early "check engine" signs and paint imperfections.

South Korean auto conglomerate Hyundai Motor Group's Genesis, Kia and Hyundai brands rank above the rest in terms of initial quality. The trio snagged the top three spots, in that order, for a second year in a row.

"They have become very adept at understanding what American consumers want and don't want and delivering just enough," Mr Sargent said of Hyundai Motor Group.

The carmaker tends to outfit its vehicles with bare-bones technology, whereas European carmakers "are stuffing their vehicles full of technology, which people want and find appealing, but with that comes the possibility of having some problems", he said.

All 10 European brands ranked below the industry average this year.

Several Detroit brands fared better than Japanese peers as Ford Motor's Lincoln and Ford nameplates placed together in the top five for the first time, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' Dodge secured its highest ranking ever, at No. 8.

General Motors' Chevrolet and Buick also placed above average.

Japanese carmaker Toyota Motor Corp is doing well relative to last year, Mr Sargent said, but still is not performing as well as it did 15 years ago.

Smaller rival Honda Motor fared below average. The namesake brands of Tata Motors' Jaguar Land Rover unit ranked last among those surveyed, as they did last year.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2019, with the headline 'Car buyers befuddled by technology'. Print Edition | Subscribe