NEW YORK — The "technology arms race" has left four of 10 consumers thinking that automakers are offering too many high-tech features, according to a recent Harris Poll study.
Some of this technology was once only available on premium brands like Acura, Cadillac, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, but it's becoming increasingly common on popular models like the Chevrolet Malibu, Chrysler 200, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Jetta, meaning more drivers than ever are being confronted with it.
The 2015 Harris Poll AutoTECHCAST surveyed 14,000 recent new-car buyers in the U.S. about 60 technologies in such categories as entertainment, comfort, convenience, intelligent sensing, lighting, powertrain, alternative fuels, safety and telematics.
Just 16 of the 60 features evaluated received "good" scores when the consumers were asked to rate their degree of familiarity with the technology. Those with the highest scores included rearview cameras (rated "good" by 61 percent of respondents), satellite radio (51 percent) and back-up warning systems (42 percent).
At the other end of the spectrum, those with the lowest ratings were automatic window tinting (rated "good" by just 7 percent of the consumers), augmented reality dashboards (also 7 percent) and driver mode control (6 percent).
More than 40 percent of the study's respondents say they've never used one or more of the major infotainment features, and low users (those who have never used or use only once in a while) are significantly less likely to be familiar with infotainment features, the study found.
And, according to Larry Shannon-Missal, managing editor of the Harris Poll, in a statement: "The risk of low familiarity is that consumers fail to recognize the value of features, fail to associate the value with specific brands, and may lead to negative perceptions about the brand and/or the industry."
So, if consumers don't see much value in the overwhelming array of high-tech goodies now available on many new cars, why do the manufacturers continue to pile them on?
"Automakers believe they're under intense pressure to launch new features and connected services to remain competitive," explained Shannon-Missal.
As a result, auto companies take a "checklist approach" to technology, according to the report, and they measure success by the number of features they can offer. Instead, Harris Poll suggests, they should redefine their metrics to focus on the familiarity, usage, satisfaction and brand loyalty of the buyer.
While the recent buyers surveyed seemed to feel generally bombarded by new tech features, the study nevertheless found that certain specific technologies did rate highly with consumers and can often factor into purchasing decisions.
Many of these features help increase vehicle safety, such as rearview cameras, blind-spot warning systems, lane-keep assist and front collision-avoidance systems.
Others that received good marks included convenience features, like navigation systems, wireless mobile device charging and vehicle Internet connectivity.
This is the second auto technology study that shows the gear appears to be wasted on many drivers. The recent J.D. Power 2015 Driver Interactive Vehicle Experience Report said at least 20 percent of new-vehicle owners have never used 16 of the 33 technology features measures.
Edmunds says: This study suggests that automakers' desire to pile on the tech features may be outpacing a perceived need on the part of consumers.