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J.D. Power: automotive OEM smartphone apps still struggle to meet owner expectations of speed and functionality

The percentage of vehicle owners using the app of the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) continues to increase year-over-year, with 38% of respondents indicating that they use the app at least half of the time that they drive, according to the J.D. Power 2021 US OEM ICE Benchmark Study. The usage rate is highest for domestic OEMs with almost 50% of their owners using it half of the time and 27% saying they use it each time that they drive.

Increasing these numbers further will be vital if OEMs want to utilize the app for a continuous revenue stream.

J.D. Power is working with vehicle manufacturers to improve the user experience (UX) of the brand’s app given that it’s related to the third-most problematic feature cited by owners in the J.D. Power 2021 US Initial Quality Study. Issues with connectivity and incorrect information are plaguing apps and creating dissatisfaction for users, which causes many owners to abandon their brand’s app.

Owners are looking for accurate real-time information about their vehicle, which many apps are currently not providing. While app speeds are improving, accuracy and stability are not in many cases. The apps are also lacking many of the features that owners want, causing many owners to say that the app is providing no real value.

—Frank Hanley, senior director of global automotive consulting at J.D. Power

Following are key findings of the 2021 study:

  • App usage increasing but satisfaction isn’t: While the percentage of owners using the app on a regular basis has increased, their level of satisfaction has not. Among the four main performance indicators for the app—appeal; content; ease of use; and speed—speed has the lowest level of satisfaction.

  • Apps still lacking functionality: The app features most desired by owners include remote controls; navigation assistance; service monitoring; and status/diagnostic information. However, no one app in the industry is currently providing a good execution for all these features.

  • Dealership help remains key: Owners find the setup process for many apps to be difficult and many are not aware of the content available in the app. As a result, assistance is needed at the dealership. Owners who received assistance at the dealership with setup and feature explanation are more likely to use the app and have greater satisfaction.

  • Willingness to pay for app features remains low: While 90% of owners do not pay for their app, there is an increase in the percentage of those willing to pay for it in the future. Among app users, 28% say they would be willing to pay up to $5 for the app, though 58% say they are not willing to pay.

Among the 32 brands benchmarked in the study, the top-performing mobile apps are Tesla, Volvo Cars, MyHyundai, Genesis Intelligent Assistant and MySubaru. While Tesla doesn’t manufacturer gasoline-powered vehicles, it is included in this study because of its technology leadership and is considered a benchmark for all automotive mobile apps.

It’s critical that manufacturers devote proper resources to developing apps that truly meet the needs of new owners. New app offerings from Jeep and BMW, for example, show noticeable improvement by adding additional content and increase in speed. Some others, however, have issues with speed, pairing and connectivity.

—Frank Hanley

The study gauges owners’ experience with their brand’s mobile app. Insights are derived from surveying new vehicle owners and an expert benchmarking assessment of the most relevant mobile apps. Results are based on a standardized evaluation approach relying on more than 250 best practices for vehicle apps. The expert benchmarking includes apps from 32 brands that sell vehicles in the United States. The usage survey data represents 1,000 owners who said that they have used their app. The study was fielded in November 2021.


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