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Study: Car buyers will pay extra for fuel-economy tech, in-dash apps

J.D. Power finds highest interest in fuel saving and smartphone-like features.

By Douglas Newcomb Apr 30, 2013 1:16PM

Aha Radio. Photo by Aha Radio.Automakers are putting smartphone-like applications into their cars and conjuring up fuel-saving indicators such as Ford's "efficiency leaves.” But how interested are car buyers in these bells and whistles, and how much are they willing to pay for them?


These are questions that a study from J.D. Power and Associates -- fielded in March and based on responses from more than 16,500 vehicle owners about their interest in approximately 22 “primary technologies” -- tries to answer.


Among respondents who replied that they “definitely would” or “probably would” purchase specific technologies for their next car, the highest percentage preferred what J.D. Power called “device application link” (aka smartphone app integration), fuel economy indicators and active shutter grille vents.


The study also gauges interest and purchase intent for emerging automotive technologies both before and after the “market price” is revealed. Of course, the level of interest among those surveyed usually drops when they see the final price.


Fuel-economy indicators and active grille vents had the lowest decreases in interest before and after the price was revealed. Among those surveyed, 76 percent said they “definitely would” or “probably would” add an active grille vent before knowing the price. (We were surprised that most respondents even knew about active grille vents, which open and close air intakes on the front of a vehicle to optimize aerodynamics and fuel economy.) Interest in that feature dropped to 61 percent when the average price of $150 was revealed.

 

For fuel-economy indicators, 79 percent of respondents were interested before the price was revealed, while 72 percent were still interested after learning its average price of $50.
 

“Vehicle owners are continually aware of rising fuel costs and the need for better fuel economy," Mike VanNieuwkuyk, executive director of global automotive at J.D. Power and Associates, said in a statement. "As they have come to understand the benefits of new automotive technology, they are increasingly interested in those that allow them to manage their fuel consumption with greater efficiency and help better manage their cost at the pump."

J.D. Power said that rapid adoption of smartphones has helped fuel the desire for in-dash apps. More than 67 percent of those surveyed had a smartphone, and ownership of traditional mobile phones has fallen to 28 percent in 2013 from 82 percent in 2007, when J.D. Power first started measuring mobile phone ownership.


In the 2013 study, 82 percent of respondents who owned smartphones said they were interested in cars with smartphone connectivity, particularly with apps (in 2012 it was 78 percent).  After the average price of app integration was revealed as $250, interest fell to 67 percent.


But as early car-tech adopters have learned, the first-generation app integration systems leave a lot to be desired -- and can make frustrated drivers reach for their portable devices instead. J.D. Power's Consumer Insight and Strategy Group tracked social media activity regarding emerging technologies and found that consumers think vehicle infotainment systems are “inferior to their smartphones and tablets and want more mobile apps and control of software updates to integrate with their vehicle.”


The study noted that owners keep their vehicles for five or more years, but that car technology “doesn't keep pace with the introduction of new smartphones” and that there are still few ways to upgrade in-vehicle technology. It also suggested that car companies work more closely with technology providers, which as we've seen, is starting to happen.


With autonomous driving technology, the study found that car owners were “wary” and that the general interest of active safety features such as auto-braking "remain fairly low." But it did reveal that interest in these features has risen compared with the 2012 study.

Here's an easy, short list to remember the next time you're out car shopping, courtesy of the study's recommendations: 

  • Avoid paying for technology you don't need.
  • Look at how much fuel you use and compare it with what you'd really save with an optional fuel-saving feature.
  • On a test drive, be sure to test all the technology so you're not too surprised after a big purchase.

[Source: J.D. Power and Associates]

23Comments
May 4, 2013 11:56AM
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Half the people don't belong behind the wheel of any type of vehicle. Their to busy playing with their smart phone, watching a move, or reading a book while they drive, instead of paying attention to the road and what is going on around them. That's right automakers put something else in the vehicle to distract them.
May 4, 2013 1:53PM
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This is funny, I'd actually pay more for a car WITHOUT a touch-screen in the dash.

 

I can't stand those things. They force you to take your eyes off the road to adjust the HVAC, radio, etc. whereas with actual buttons and knobs, once you know the feel and position, you can make adjustments without even looking at them.

 

Not to mention the fact that touch-screens don't tend to have very good long-term reliability. That may be fine for a smart-phone or tablet that will be obsolete in 2-3 years anyway but not for a car which should last at least 10 years. 

May 4, 2013 11:15AM
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Active grill vents, just something else to break.
May 4, 2013 1:33PM
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I don't even have a radio in my 1965 VW Microbus, and I'm both safety conscious, attentive, and simultaneously relaxed.  All of the techno-crap is a distraction, and it's getting out of control. 
May 1, 2013 5:02AM
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"Fuel-economy indicators and active grille vents had the lowest decreases in interest before and after the price was revealed. Among those surveyed, 76 percent said they “definitely would” or “probably would” add an active grille vent before knowing the price. (We were surprised that most respondents even knew about active grille vents, which open and close air intakes on the front of a vehicle to optimize aerodynamics and fuel economy.) Interest in that feature dropped to 61 percent when the average price of $150 was revealed."

--I think 95% of those 76% believe "active grille vents" are those motorized dashboard vents (because manually pointing a dashboard HVAC vent in a different direction is SO HARD)

 

If a person says the two things they most want a car to do are "use less gas" and "have more smartphone-like features," I will argue that said person doesn't really want a car.

May 4, 2013 1:53PM
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The cost of the fuel saving devices usually exceeds the cost of the fuel being saved.
May 4, 2013 3:18PM
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Just wait till you car gets a computer virus!
May 4, 2013 11:54AM
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They had grill shutters, albeit manual, in the 20's.  So hooray for new technology.
May 4, 2013 12:09PM
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Generally speaking, i like the modern high tact stuff in today's cars. being an old fort who got his drivers license in 1969 and remembers things like breaker points, distributors, and carburetors, I really appreciate being able to just get in my car or truck, turn the key, and have it start every time. Well, except every four years or so when the battery has to be replaced. Considering the performance of today's vehicles (my Mustang gets 31mpg on the highway, my F150 22mpg on the highway), I say bring it with the new technology. I mean there is a cost to tall the new engineering, but then again, who wants to go back to the days of Ford Pintos, and air cooled VW'S? Not me. 
May 4, 2013 12:22PM
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I kiss my cheap 92 toyota tercel every week, has 185,000+ miles and gets 35-40 mpg depending on the weather. The Japenese really know how to build a car. No frills no Bills!
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