As manufacturers become even more competitive, automakers are banking that "must-have" technology will become a decisive factor in attracting consumers to their brands. We're already seeing automakers defining their brands by their high-tech offerings (Ford with SYNC, GM with OnStar, etc.) - and if the recent auto shows, including the upcoming one in New York, are any indication, that trend is just getting started.
Hot new technology packs a big 'wow' factor, but just how much impact will it have on buying decisions vs. more substantial considerations like safety, fuel efficiency, etc.? Which gadgets will catch on with car buyers, and which will be relegated to the scrap heap of failed vehicle technology (alongside the push-button shifter and the in-vehicle VHS player). In search of answers, MyRide.com recently conducted a series of snap polls targeting in-market car buyers.
High Technology a MUCH Bigger Sell Than Green Technology
Forty percent of respondents indicated that a high-tech or electronic feature (iPod/MP3 connectivity, GPS navigation, etc.) was a factor in their last vehicle purchase selection, with 16% describing it as a "significant" factor.
When asked what will be more important during their next vehicle purchase - green technology (i.e., alternative fuel or high fuel efficiency) vs. high technology (advanced communications, safety, lifestyle features) - more than twice as many respondents selected high technology. And 12% indicated that high technology features would be more important to them than price, performance, utility/cargo room and fuel economy combined.
Car Buyers Rate New Design Technology - from 'Hot' to 'Ice Cold'
Some of the most interesting new vehicle technology involves design - everything from cap-less gas tanks (new from Ford) to, believe it or not,lavender- and orange-scented tires.
Shoppers were found to respond favorably to opacity-shifting windows/sunroofs and cap-less fueling systems but are left "ice cold" by certain less practical offerings. Not to kick the scented tires that hit the market this past winter, but they may exemplify the potential for overreaching on behalf of the aftermarket industry (an aftermarket industry) as everyone scrambles to out-gadget the competition. Indeed, when asked (in a separate poll question) to describe their gut reaction to the prospect of scented tires in a separate poll question, 80% of respondents replied, "negative - it seems silly and absurd; the industry's gone too far."
Drivers Looking to Stay Connected
One of the mega-trends in automotive gadgetry involves providing in-vehicle connectivity to other gadgets - iPods, cell phones, laptops, etc. - safely allowing us to 'plug in' in our cars to our devices from our homes and offices. When asked which piece of technology they'd most like have access to, or more seamless access to, in their cars, the majority (56%) selected access to their cell phone/iPhone/Blackberry while the remainder were pretty much evenly split between their computers/laptops and their iPod/MP3 music/video player. This strong demand for hands-free phone communications mirrors the breakout popularity of Ford's Microsoft-developed SYNC system, which allows drivers to operate their car's stereo, personal music device and phone/blackberry by voice. (A Ford analyst reports that Ford vehicles with the Sync option sell twice as fast as those that don't.)
Most Perceive Toyota as Most Tech-Savvy Car Company
They may love SYNC technology, but only 9% of poll respondents named Ford-Lincoln as the car company they perceived to be the most tech-savvy. Most selected Toyota/Scion/Lexus (22%), followed by GM (provider of the OnStar system), Mercedes Benz (13%) and BMW (12%). Scion has saved its big news for the New York Auto Show, with the unveiling of the Hako Concept, the replacement for the TC coupe, which should offer young hipsters plenty of in-vehicle technology to gawk at.
Drivers Looking for More from Microsoft
When asked which high-tech company they'd most like to see co-design a car, most selected Microsoft (33%) - ahead of Apple/Mac (22%), and Bose (19%). They may soon get their wish. Microsoft is promoting plans for an expanded "Microsoft Auto" software technology that goes well beyond SYNC. Completely voice-activated, it will purportedly enable drivers to access real-time traffic updates, get instant directions (for, say, either the most fuel-efficient or scenic route), download music - and even allow cars to communicate to avoid accidents.
A quick look at some of the high-tech gear that's being packed into new cars on display at upcoming New York Auto Show:
A hands-free system that lets you control your cell phone, blackberry and iPod with simple voice commands.
In-vehicle high-speed Internet access. And on-board hard drives.
Advanced navigation systems that provide real-time traffic, weather, and emergency alerts and point you to the cheapest nearby gas, available parking, restaurants, etc.
Parent-friendly technology including satellite TV, cameras to keep an eye on the kids in back, and 'time out' buttons to silence the entertainment and take over the mic.
Safety sensors that help the car park itself and warn you when you're drifting out of your lane, when vehicles are in your blind spot, etc.