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Vehicle Tech: If We Know It, We Want It

Here’s something you may not know: When it comes to choosing which car to buy, vehicle tech now ranks ahead of exterior styling as a decision-driver for shoppers, as the recently released Cox Automotive 2018 Vehicle Tech Features Study notes. But perhaps that’s not a surprise to you.

When you think about it, technology is a huge umbrella, and it’s hard to measure the depth of its impact on motor vehicles. In fact, today’s cars are more rolling computers than they are anything else. Technology touches virtually every system.

The reality is, most car shoppers today place tech above other more traditional considerations, such as styling, which is a bit jarring. However, this should be a call to action for carmaker product planners, marketers and dealer management to not only incorporate more meaningful technology into their vehicles but to feature that technology in such a way that we, as consumers, want to own and master it.

In the end, it’s up to us to familiarize ourselves with the ever-evolving safety, driver-assist and connectivity technologies available in today’s new cars. The more familiar and comfortable we are with the technology, the more likely we are to not only demand it but to pay extra for it.

The Survey

Some 2,554 (Kelley Blue Book) visitors spread across the U.S. were polled to determine their awareness and preferences for current vehicle technology. Although the sampling was random and included a wide range of ages and ethnicities, 47 percent turned out to be ages 51 to 69, 83 percent were male and 82 percent were Caucasian. Generally, the respondents were better educated and a bit more affluent than the U.S. population.

Technology Defined

What are we talking about here? Basically, the survey addressed three specific types of technology: safety, creature comforts and driver assist/connectivity. Safety includes features such as a backup camera, blind spot monitoring and automatic headlights. Creature comforts encompasses things such as heated and ventilated seats, keyless entry with push-button start and touchscreen controls. Finally, driver assist/connectivity features include collision avoidance, blind spot monitors, Bluetooth connectivity and smartphone integration.

Comfort Level

Past advances in technology, such as anti-lock brakes, air bags and seat belts, were hardly accepted overnight. There was a time when we were perfectly content to drive cars with drum brakes and hard-metal dashboards. Seat belts were for airplanes, and no one had ever heard of an air bag. Now, as new technologies find their way into cars and slowly prove their worth, we start to grow accustomed to them and eventually expect them to be standard equipment.

According to the study, the top ten tech features with which we are most familiar are:

  1. Backup cameras
  2. Heated/cooled seats
  3. Keyless access with push-button start
  4. Automatic headlights
  5. Navigation
  6. Bluetooth
  7. Touchscreen controls
  8. Blind spot monitors
  9. Voice recognition
  10. Smartphone integration

What We Want

Apparently, we want those technologies with which we are most familiar. At least, that’s what survey respondents leaned toward. When asked to select the features a vehicle must have for them to consider buying or leasing it, the survey respondents chose nine of the above 10 with which they were most familiar. Only voice recognition didn’t make the cut, being edged out by adaptive cruise control.

What We’re Willing to Pay

The Catch-22 of wanting the features we’re most familiar with is that we are so familiar with several of them and, therefore, we don’t think they should cost extra. In other words, they better be on the list of standard features. Technologies such as backup cameras, keyless access with push-button start, Bluetooth and even Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are among our familiar, must-have features that we aren’t keen on paying extra to get.

The technology we’re most willing to pay extra for includes features such as collision avoidance, active park assist, 360-degree cameras and adaptive cruise control. Clearly, safety and driver-assist technologies appear to be more valuable to us as extra-cost options than connectivity technologies.

So What?

No question that vehicle technology is growing as a key factor in car-buying decision-making. According to the Cox study, 53% of us want to see further innovations in safety tech in the next three to five years. Carmakers, then, should be in high gear developing new technologies that enrich the driver and passenger experience. But, is that enough? Probably not.

As consumers, we are not likely to spend our money on technology we don’t understand. But how are we to gain an understanding of all the upcoming new technology? As the Cox study found, a car dealership is still the top source for information on vehicle technology. It’s closely followed by third-party websites, such as Autotrader and KBB, but the local dealership still tops the list of sources.

Autotrader’s Take

As consumers, we are our own worst enemy when it comes to mastering vehicle tech. When we do take the time to familiarize ourselves with a new technology, we tend to want it. On the other hand, we don’t believe car dealers are doing enough to tutor the public on available technologies. A 15-minute test drive simply won’t get the job done. In fact, a consumer’s brush with advanced technologies during a short test drive may very well be an exercise in frustration instead. We think more should be done to introduce a shopper to the new car technologies — before the test drive even begins. This was a key conclusion of the Cox Automotive study, and we agree. 

Russ Heaps
Russ Heaps
Russ Heaps is an author specializing in automotive, financial and travel news. For nearly 35 years he has covered the automotive industry for newspapers, magazines and internet websites. His resume includes The Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald, The Washington Times and numerous other daily newspapers through syndication. He edited Auto World magazine, and helped create and edit NOPI Street... Read More about Russ Heaps

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