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New-car owners unhappy with in-dash navigation

J.D. Power study finds smartphone applications are becoming a growing alternative.

By Douglas Newcomb Jan 28, 2013 7:08AM

Chevy MyLink with Bringo nav app.New-car owners are less satisfied with their in-dash navigation systems than they were a year ago, according to a recent J.D. Power and Associates survey. But the news is bright: Drivers now have more options in the form of smartphone nav applications, and at least one automaker is taking the "if you can’t beat 'em, join 'em" approach.

The 14th annual J.D. Power and Associates 2012 U.S. Navigation Usage and Satisfaction Study found that overall owner satisfaction with factory-installed nav systems declined slightly from 2011. Conducted in October and November of last year, the study was based on responses from more than 20,000 people who purchased or leased a new, 2012 model-year vehicle with a factory-installed navigation system.

J.D. Power concluded that owner satisfaction with such systems scored, on average, 681 points on a 1,000-point scale -- a decrease of 13 points from 694 in 2011. While satisfaction has sunk in all areas measured, ease of use declined by 25 points year over year.

The study also found that 46 percent of new-car owners surveyed -- almost half -- said they "definitely would not" or "probably would not" buy their factory-installed nav system again “if their smartphone navigation could be displayed on a central screen in their vehicle.”

J.D. Power pointed out that in its 2012 study, 47 percent of vehicle owners indicated they used a smartphone app for navigation in their cars, compared with 37 percent in 2011. It added that “as smartphones become more sophisticated in their capabilities, more owners prefer to use them for navigation instead of the system installed in their vehicle."

"Free apps, up-to-date maps and a familiar interface allow for quicker routing and improved interaction, including better voice recognition," Mike VanNieuwkuyk, executive director of global automotive for J.D. Power, said in a press release. “Manufacturers have a window of opportunity to either improve upon the current navigation-system platforms or focus on new ways to integrate smartphones."

What doesn’t bode well for apps and the small screens of smartphones, according to the study, is that input and controls accounted for six of the 10 most frequent problems that car owners cited. And in what J.D. Power called an “interesting disconnect,” voice activation was the factor that scored lowest in satisfaction, yet 80 percent of vehicle owners who have a voice-activated navigation system say they would want that feature again in their next system.

"Smartphones and natural voice recognition have raised owner expectations across all vehicle segments, and manufacturers are not yet meeting these demands," VanNieuwkuyk said. “Navigation systems are no longer viewed as a stand-alone component but as part of a media, safety and infotainment package and are expected to seamlessly work together, but in many cases are falling short of owner expectations."

General Motors is pursuing this path. The MyLink system in the Chevy Spark and Sonic is specifically designed to integrate with a smartphone and use the BringGo nav app rather than a built-in system. MyLink also is the first application by a U.S. automaker of Apple’s Siri Eyes Free for "off-board" voice control of certain functions, and it could solve another problem area for automakers not covered by the J.D. Power study.

While a couple of commenters responded to a recent post on the SD-card navigation system in the 2013 Mazda CX-5 by saying that they don’t own a smartphone, apparently they’re in the minority, since growth of the devices is still surging. And although in-dash systems have gotten better and prices have come down, until we see more systems like MyLink that use smartphones and their apps to bring in up-to-date, connected content into the car, I’m betting that we’ll continue to see survey scores slide.

Doug Newcomb has been covering car technology for more than 20 years for outlets ranging from Rolling Stone to In 2008, he published his first book, "Car Audio for Dummies" (Wiley). He lives and drives in Hood River, Ore., with his wife and two kids, who share his passion for cars and car technology, especially driving and listening to music.

Jan 28, 2013 8:00AM

2 of my 3 cars have outdated DVD based in dash nav.  I don't use either system, I use my Google Maps on my Android.


Getting away from integrated systems and moving towards plug and play setups is the best option.

Jan 28, 2013 9:57AM

I'm happy with no cell-phone at all. I still rely on the good ol' Rand McNally 2012 road atlas. If I need more in-depth directions, I just go to Google maps and print out some directions before I leave. Works for the wife and me.

A couple of years back, we made a 3500 mile, three week trip across 17 states and 2 Canadian provinces without a cell-phone or a GPS and had no problems. We ended  up getting there and back without any major issues. I think the atlas cost us $6.95 at Wally-world.

Life's better without a cell-phone.

Jan 28, 2013 8:44AM
I view in dash nav as a waste of your money.  You can go get a nav at just about any department store now for under $100 and mount it to your windshield.  Take it off when you are done.   Plus updating maps on a portable are fast and easy.  Not to mention you can take it in any car. 
Mar 25, 2013 10:18PM
 It's going to latest far more audio and method of obtaining info ideal for automobile fulfilling. you also can get the best opel navigation for your Opel.
Mar 25, 2013 10:18PM

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Jan 28, 2013 10:31PM
Despite of hard work and innovations, automakers are not able to come up with perfectly workable navigation systems which is why car owners are not satisfied. However, at same time, i believe new cars coming out at the end of 2013 and beginning of 2012 will have expedited navigation technologies.

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