J.D. Power Offers More Proof That Voice-Recognition Systems Are The Worst Things In Our Cars

August 28, 2014

Earlier this month, J.D. Power's Kristin Kolodge told a group of conference-goers that voice-recognition software is the most troublesome technology found on cars today. Of all the problems that customers have with their new vehicles, Kolodge said that complaints about voice-recognition are more common than any other.

Now, a new study from J.D. Power offers some statistics to back up Kolodge's claim.

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Between February and May 2014, Power polled 86,118 new-car owners within 90 days of their vehicle purchase. The firm then compiled that data to create the 2014 Multimedia Quality and Satisfaction Study, which was released today. Here are some of its major findings:

  • In new vehicles, owners complained about audio, communication, entertainment and navigation devices more than any other equipment. (Power calls those devices "ACEN systems", but we more often call them "infotainment systems").
  • In the ACEN category, the most troublesome feature of all was built-in voice-recognition software (i.e. not Siri, but the stuff that's installed by the automaker). On average, there were 8.3 complaints about voice-recognition systems for every 100 vehicles.
  • Among those complaints, 63 percent of survey respondents said that the voice-recognition system didn’t understand or misinterpreted verbal commands; 44 percent complained that it didn't recognize or misinterpreted names and words; and 31 percent said that the system didn't understand spoken numbers. (Consumers could make multiple complaints about their ACEN systems, which is why those figures add up to more than 100 percent.)
  • The second most problematic feature was Bluetooth (no surprises there). For every 100 vehicle owners, 5.7 had trouble with their Bluetooth systems -- though in fairness, that was down from 6.3 complaints per 100 vehicles in 2013.  
  • Among those with Bluetooth complaints, most -- 97 percent -- said that they were trying to pair the system with their smartphones. Around 52 percent of complaints came from iPhone owners, with 41 percent coming from Android users.
  • The third most commonly cited problem was wind noise, which isn't ACEN-related, but number four most definitely was: navigation.
  • Despite the high number of complaints, voice-recognition glitches didn't diminish customer satisfaction as rapidly as Bluetooth connectivity and steering wheel controls did. That suggests that consumers are a bit more forgiving on voice-recognition software -- for now, anyway.

 The biggest takeaway of all, though, is the danger that ACEN technology poses to automakers, mostly because it's very difficult to fix. As Power's Mike VanNieuwkuyk explains:

"Problems such as wind noise can sometimes be adjusted at the dealership. With voice recognition and connectivity problems, owners have had to learn to live with the shortcomings of this feature and instead rely on such work-around options as knobs and controls on the steering wheel and head unit to offset the core problem. Despite having alternative controls, this problem still negatively impacts owner satisfaction."

Which is something we've known for some time. So, why are automakers still churning out terrible infotainment systems? If you know, please share.


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