There’s no getting around the fact that technology in cars — safety technology, in particular — has become their most significant selling point for many people. Companies like Tesla and Volvo stake a large part of their business on driver-assistance systems and their benefit to driver safety. Knowing that, it makes you kind of wonder which companies are doing this stuff the best, right?
That’s where the 2020 J.D. Power Tech Experience Index, published on Wednesday, comes in. It looks at nearly all major vehicle manufacturers — including Tesla, for the first time — and assigns a score based on how quickly they assimilate new safety technologies and how effectively they’re integrated into production vehicles. The theoretical maximum score is 1,000 points, so which companies scored the highest?
Luxury car brands, somewhat unsurprisingly, edge out their more affordable competition when it comes to the adoption and implementation of technology in their vehicles. Makes sense, right? If a car costs more to buy, buyers will expect more from it. To that end, what is a little surprising is that Volvo, and not one of the German brands, reigns supreme with a score of 617. It’s the only manufacturer to break into the 600s, as a matter of fact. BMW follows Volvo in second place with Cadillac, Mercedes and Genesis rounding out the top five.
Something that we’re a little surprised to see is just how close the nonluxury brands are keeping things. All of the top five have scores in the 500s with the No. 1 brand — Hyundai — scoring only three points less than its luxurious sibling, Genesis. Subaru is No. 2 with a score of 541, followed by Kia, Nissan and Ram.
At this point you’re probably shouting at your screen and scaring your neighbors, wondering where Tesla ranks in this list. After all, I mentioned that this was the brand’s first appearance in the TEI, right? I should have mentioned that Tesla is included with an asterisk because it refuses to grant J.D. Power access to its customers for the TEI survey in the 15 states that require it. Really, it’s the Big T’s own fault — though it would have done well with a score of 593, putting it in second place behind Volvo.
Another thing that the TEI looks at is what technologies car buyers are considering important when they’re out (or in, given the state of the world) shopping for cars. Based on survey data, J.D. Power has found that cameras are king. The ability to see the vehicle and its surroundings from multiple angles is seriously attractive to buyers, which makes sense because modern cars are bigger than ever and harder to see out of, thanks to thicker pillars all around.
What’s the piece of tech that customers care least about? It turns out that the car-buying public could care less about gesture control, and you know what? I don’t blame them. It feels like a gimmick even in cars where it’s done with a reasonable level of competence. Buttons and touchscreens and voice commands are plenty, for now, thanks.
Lastly, the survey tells us that while interested in advanced safety equipment, buyers don’t really trust features that introduce some level of automation into the driving task — for example, automatic emergency braking or adaptive cruise control. In my experience, these systems are pretty good, so long as you’re paying attention to what they’re doing. But even though I experience them regularly, I don’t fully trust them either. We’re still a long way off from that level of sophistication.