Head Unit

J.D. Power is a consumer organization that specializes in providing data and customer insight to companies and the general public. The firm’s latest survey has indicated some troubling news in lieu of newer and newer technologies in cars. 

We’d like to believe that technology makes our lives better, but if implemented poorly and haphazardly, it becomes a problematic affair, especially in cars. If implemented correctly, technology simply vanishes and it becomes second nature to the user. In the case of infotainment systems –either good or bad – , a user interface that is devoid of any clutter would be preferred by consumers, as the ease of use goes up the simpler a system is easy to use. 

The latest consumer survey conducted and published by J.D. Power indicated a bit of a worrying statistic in modern vehicles. Problems arose with audio, communication, entertainment, and navigation systems in cars. These systems make up half of the 10 most problematic issues that plagues owners of new vehicles. According to the consumer organization, the problem is the result of an arms race between vehicle manufacturers, as there is a rush to simply tack on technology into automobile systems for the sake of covering consumer demand. 

A total of 11,500 vehicle owners who have had their vehicles between 12 to 36 months responded to the study. The study takes a look at the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles sampled. Smaller numbers indicate less problems, meaning better performance. The infotainment systems here weren’t the only bits of technology to cause problems for consumers. 

Audio, communication, entertainment, and navigation systems in cars averaged 16.6 issues per 100 new vehicles. This metric however is only slightly improved, indicating that a marginal change to the industry has been felt. It is however, one of the more problematic categories in the survey. Just to compare, alarms, and cruise control systems registered at an average of 1.5 problems per 100 vehicles – quite a stark contrast. 

Safety systems were another sore spot for the survey, as some systems caused 2.4 problems per 100 vehicles. Ironically, the more premium segment of cars caused 4 problems per 100 vehicles. These systems are supposedly integrated with the head unit or the display in the gauge cluster. Options such as the blind-spot monitoring and lane departure warning systems are among the few that caused problems for surveyed consumers. 

The metric doesn’t come as a surprise because most of these newer technologies are integrated into the new crop of head units from manufacturers. The systems are interlaced with integration for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as the base operating system that powers the unit and is responsible for displaying some of the safety systems that are offered on cars today. While these safety features work, it is important to have them work reliably. Perhaps it is easy for the system to work while the head unit is not being used for navigation, taking a call, or listening to music. However once more load and once more layers of functionality are added, the task of processing and displaying all this information becomes a tedious task for your poor infotainment system. 

There is hope however, in the form of the marginal improvement that J.D. Power has posted. Manufacturers may be racing to get their infotainment systems out to market as quickly as possible to meet consumer demand, however if patience is exercised and reviews are anything to go by, your headunit can be as seamless as a veteran driver working the clutch of a manual transmission smoothly in traffic, easy but with a lot of practice. Manufacturers simply need to keep improving their systems and making them more human oriented, as well as bumping up the processing power to include more and more safety features such as an around-view monitor or blind spot monitoring. So until the processing power of your average consumer head unit improves, expect only small improvements in the latest vehicles year-on-year.  

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