People are getting fed up with all the useless tech in their cars

If you’ve ever let out a string of curses while fumbling to control your car’s air conditioning because it’s buried under several menus in a dang touchscreen, you’re not alone. At a time when car companies are racing to outdo each other by slathering more and more tech onto their products, people are getting increasingly fed up with their car infotainment systems.

According to JD Power’s Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, overall satisfaction among car owners is 845 (on a 1,000-point scale), a decrease of two points from a year ago and three points lower than in 2021. That’s the first time in the 28-year history of the study that the consumer research firm registered a consecutive year-over-year decline in owner satisfaction.

Unsurprisingly, more people are choosing not to use their car’s native infotainment controls. Only 56 percent of owners prefer to use their vehicle’s built-in system to play audio, down from 70 percent in 2020, JD Power found. Less than half of owners said they like using their car’s native controls for navigation, voice recognition, or to make phone calls.

That’s the first time in the 28-year history of the study that the consumer research firm registered a consecutive year-over-year decline in owner satisfaction

Naturally, it seems like most people are preferring to use smartphone-mirroring systems like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which have proven to be incredibly popular over the years. And indeed, there have been other surveys that indicate people prefer interacting with the apps on their phone than whatever cockamamie bullshit was cooked up by the company that made their car.

But it seems like people are warming up to native operating systems, as long as they’re developed by Google and not the automaker. JD Power found that models that have Android Automotive with Google Automotive’s operating system, AAOS, “score higher in the infotainment category than those with no AAOS whatsoever.”

But here’s where things get kind of weird: AAOS without Google Automotive Services (GAS) receives the lowest scores for infotainment of the three categories. Google Automotive Services refers to all the apps and services that come with the car when Google is built into the car — also known as “Google built-in.” Ford, GM, and Volvo have all said they will use GAS for their current and upcoming vehicles. Meanwhile, some Stellantis vehicles use Android Automotive but partner with other tech companies for their app services, like Amazon.

That’s surely music to GM’s ears, which recently made the controversial decision to block access to CarPlay and Android Auto in its future EV lineup in favor of a native Google infotainment system. If people are telling JD Power they like cars with GAS, or Google built-in, that could work in GM’s favor, depending on how they choose to move forward.

Naturally, it seems like most people are preferring to use smartphone-mirroring systems

Moving outside the car for a moment, respondents to JD Power’s survey are having some serious trouble with exteriors. It is the factor with the largest year-over-year decline, decreasing to 888 from 894. Satisfaction with exterior styling on new models in 2023 is particularly unremarkable, scoring only three points above carryover models. Frankly, I get it: a lot of cars look weird and bad. Bring back the Dodge Stealth. And no, not like that.

In terms of powertrain, electric vehicles are closing the gap with gas-powered models. The top three models in the compact SUV segment, according to JD Power, are all battery-electric: the Kia EV6 and Nissan Ariya are tied for first place, with the Mustang Mach-E coming in second. And BMW’s iX and i4 models both ranked highly in their respective categories.

Tesla continues to rank above average, but satisfaction is declining. The company earned a score of 878, making it one of the higher-performing brands in the industry. However, Tesla’s score in 2023 is nine points lower than a year ago, when the company was first included in the study. And satisfaction scores for Tesla are trending downward year over year in all 10 factors. The company isn’t eligible for JD Power’s award ranking because it doesn’t give JD Power access to owner information in the states where that permission is required by law.

That said, Tesla has not fared as well in past JD Power surveys in terms of initial quality. Here’s the methodology from JD Power for the survey:

The 2023 U.S. APEAL Study is based on responses from 84,555 owners of new 2023 model-year vehicles who were surveyed after 90 days of ownership. The study was fielded from February through May 2023, based on vehicles registered from November 2022 through February 2023.

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