While automakers are spending billions of dollars loading up their vehicles with technologies of all kinds, many owners are not using them and would rather use their smartphones instead, according to the first-ever J.D. Power 2015 Driver Interactive Vehicle Experience (DrIVE) Report.

The market research firm found that at least 20 percent of new vehicle owners have never used 16 of the 33 technology features that DrIVE measured. For the consumer, this means they are paying for something they are not using, said Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction & HMI research at J.D. Power.

The report looked at driver experiences with in-vehicle technology features during the first 90 days of ownership and was based on responses from more than 4,200 owners and lessees of 2015-model-year vehicles.

Features that owners did not use

43 percent—In-vehicle concierge feature such as OnStar.
38 percent—Mobile connectivity, such as a factory installed Wi-Fi hot spot.
35 percent—Automatic parking system, which aids in either parallel or perpendicular parking with limited interaction by the driver.
33 percent—Head-up display.
32 percent—Built-in apps such as Pandora. 

Ford Sync 3 infotainment system
The new Ford Sync 3 infotainment system shows promise.

"Tired and impatient, car buyers just want to get out of the dealership, often without becoming fully oriented with all of their new car's features," says Tom Mutchler, Consumer Reports' automotive human factors engineer. "But many high-tech features aren't immediately obvious or intuitive, especially when trying to decipher their use for the first time when driving."

The report also found that there are 14 technology features that 20 percent or more of owners said they do not want in their next vehicle. These included Apple CarPlay, Google Android Auto, in-vehicle concierge services, and in-vehicle voice texting.

The most frequently given reasons for not wanting a specific feature in their next vehicle was that it was not useful in their current vehicle and that it came as part of a package owners did not want.

Perhaps surprisingly, Gen Y owners (born from 1977 to 1994) want even fewer of these technology features built into their vehicles: At least 20 percent of them do not want 23 of the technology features, specifically those related to entertainment and connectivity systems.

"This suggests that these buyers would rather just use their familiar smartphone for these functions," says Mutchler. "That's a risk, because built-in systems' larger screens and simplified displays can make them safer to use than a phone when driving."

The in-vehicle technologies that most owners do want built into their vehicles are those that enhance safety and the driving experience, according to the study.

Blind-spot warning and detection was the top technology that people wanted: 87 percent of respondents said they wanted it in their next vehicle whether they had it or not in their current vehicle; among those who currently had it, 96 percent wanted it in their next vehicle.

Cheryl Jensen