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A most memorable movie line from “Cool Hand Luke” became etched in our pop culture and still resonates more than a half-century later: “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

In some ways, it describes the current state of consumers and Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). The disconnect is not only hampering feature utilization, but also causing confusion that can drive consumer frustration and lead to unintended use, infrequent use or causing drivers to incorrectly believe features are not working properly.

Recent research from J.D. Power points to the need for the automotive industry to better educate and engage consumers on how to incorporate ADAS technology into the day-to-day driving experience or risk feature abandonment and misuse. Both outcomes contribute to poor return on industry investments in ADAS initiatives and can impact the safety of the roads.

A Disconnect Between Industry and Consumers

While ADAS has received a tremendous amount of attention in the industry press, as innovative technologies and enhancements to existing features are announced and more features integrated into new model vehicles every year, consumers do not appear to be keeping up, as they don’t seem to fully understand the capabilities, how and when to use it and even if their vehicle offers it.

There are a variety of contributing factors to this issue. The technologies themselves are not only relatively complex, but often abstract and difficult for consumers to quickly understand. The presence of many ADAS features often call for altering driving habits that have been in place for years.

The problem, however, is exacerbated by consumer confusion that is driven by a lack of standardization of key terms and naming conventions for common ADAS features and functionality. Today, auto manufacturers apply dozens of different names and labels for Automatic Emergency Braking systems, Adaptive Cruise Control features and Lane Keeping Assistance functions.

These are just a few examples of a growing list of proprietary labels for features that often perform common functions. This dynamic is not just frustrating for consumers but may actually elevate risks if it contributes to poor consumer understanding that translates into misuse of safety features.

Also due to lack of proper training, there are misconceptions about the capabilities of the various ADAS technologies, and that consumer misunderstanding of ADAS technologies has multiple points of imprecision. For example, in a recent joint study between J.D. Power and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Advanced Vehicle Technology (AVT) Consortium, almost three-quarters of consumers surveyed (72%) who have the Lane Keeping Assistance feature, believe that it works at all speeds and 65% think it works in all weather conditions, demonstrating an inaccurate understanding of the situations under which ADAS features can be engaged and if the conditions are met for them to work properly.

Managing the Dealership Time Crunch

Much more, however, needs to be done, especially at the point of sale. For many consumers, the first and best chance to be exposed to the nuances of ADAS occurs in the dealership prior to taking possession of appropriately equipped new or used vehicles. This presents a daunting challenge.

J.D. Power research suggests that consumers begin to experience dips in their satisfaction levels, especially after spending 90 minutes in a dealership buying a car. It can often take two hours or more to complete transactions.

From a delivery satisfaction standpoint, 40 minutes is considered the ideal amount of time spent by the sales team educating new owners about the key features of a newly purchased vehicle. Only a small fraction of this time is spent on ADAS and other safety features. Indeed, more time is likely spent discussing the finer points of a vehicle’s infotainment system. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that ADAS features are often difficult to safely demonstrate during a test drive prior to final purchase.

Auto Update Surprise

The digitization of the automotive industry is adding insult to injury. As vehicles become more technologically sophisticated, many ADAS features -- among others -- will be subject to automatic software updates and upgrades. Moreover, new ADAS features or enhancements to existing ADAS technologies can be added making it even more difficult for the consumer to understand.

These factors contribute to a high level of confusion which, in turn, can lead to lack of adoption and poor satisfaction that have long-term consequences. J.D. Power research shows that if features are not engaged within the first 90 days of ownership, they are unlikely to be used at all.

If investments in ADAS technologies are to be a fundamental driving force of improved safety and perceived value, the industry will have to consider elevating initiatives to educate and engage consumers.

There is growing industry awareness of the situation, and the good news is that J.D. Power is working with the insurance industry to better inform drivers on aspects of ADAS technologies in current and future vehicles. It is a development that is designed to raise driver awareness of the ADAS features’ capabilities, requirements to operate, reaction, and limitations. More importantly, the initiative can help drivers understand that these systems are designed to assist  not replace an engaged driver.

I’ll bet even Cool Hand Luke would agree.

Kathleen Rizk

Kathleen Rizk is a Senior Director in the Global Automotive Consulting practice at J.D. Power, where she’s responsible for managing automotive technology engagements including Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS).

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