Car owners’ new gripe: lousy wireless service

The biggest frustration among new car owners is that they can’t get their car and smartphone to talk to one another, a new J.D. Power study finds.

Why it matters: Consumers want their digital lives to follow them seamlessly in the car, which is why Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have become so popular. But if the wireless connection is glitchy, such features don’t work, leaving car owners unhappy.

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  • “Owners are caught in the middle when vehicle and phone technologies don’t properly connect,” says Dave Sargent, vice president of automotive quality at J.D. Power.

Driving the news: 1 in 4 problems cited by car buyers in the first 90 days of ownership involves infotainment, according to the J.D. Power 2021 Initial Quality Study (IQS), released Tuesday.

  • For the first time in a decade, voice recognition is not the top problem; instead, it’s Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, which worsened significantly, especially for those trying to connect wirelessly.

  • About one-third of new cars now come with a built-in WiFi hub, which may or may not be compatible with a phone’s operating system.

Between the lines: Consumers already know how to pair their phones via Bluetooth. And most people have little trouble accessing Apple CarPlay or Android Auto with a USB cable.

  • When it comes to built-in WiFi, “consumers want this. They want to leave their phone in their pocket or purse. So in theory this is a great technology,” Sargent tells Axios.

  • “For a lot of people it works just fine, but a significant minority say it’s not working.”

It’s not just a case of user error, Sargent adds.

  • It’s a lack of software coordination between automakers and the tech giants, who are often at odds over controlling the in-car experience (and the valuable data at stake).

  • Phones update frequently, for example, and a connection that worked fine with the previous operating system might no longer sync with the vehicle, Sargent says.

What’s needed: Instead of pointing fingers, the two industries must work more closely together to optimize the consumer experience, according to Sargent.

  • “Automakers generally are the ones facing the wrath of owners, but this is definitely a shared problem. Owners don’t care who’s at fault — they just want their phone and their vehicle to talk to each other.”

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