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J.D. Power study finds EV owners want advanced phone apps for their cars.

EV Apps are Lacking, but Dealers Can Overcome Customers’ Concerns

EV owners want to use apps but find many aren’t worth the expense. Here’s how dealers can help boost confidence.

High-tech apps for battery-electric vehicles add value to those rides…until customers become confused or frustrated with their performance.

Poor online technology can mar a bank’s reputation. OEMs face similar backlash if owners struggle with connectivity and functionality of smartphone apps, navigation systems and other tech, says Jason Norton, senior manager-global automotive consulting, J.D. Power.

“If I use my navigation system one time and can’t figure it out, the likelihood of me going back to that technology is very low,” Norton tells Wards. “If I can simply go to Google Maps or Apple Maps or Waze from my phone and get the information I need quickly, what’s my incentive to use the technology that I can’t understand?”

Norton bases his comments on J.D. Power’s OEM EV App Benchmark Study findings. Although some brands receive top customer scores for their technology, others fail even at basic functions such as charging station identification, vehicle range and even mobile phone charging information.


More than half of EV owner respondents report they use their brand’s app at least half of the time they drive for vital information such as the previously mentioned range and charging station locations. When owners stop using their car’s apps, it’s likely because the free trial period has ended.

“Overall, customers are not finding the functionality and the speed of the application matching the usability for the price point,” Norton says. “If you’re going to charge me for something, it has to be something that I can use and that provides value to me.”

And buyers value speed and functionality to monitor their cars’ charging processes, range (70%) and charging station locales (85%).
New technology is constantly available, and OEMs often can transmit it to cars through the cloud, but functionality often is lacking, says Norton.
 

"Many of the new entries are still lagging a little bit,” he says. “The OEMs are still trying to figure out what these customers really need to utilize on an everyday basis.”

The answer may be in the results of a Wards survey.

The majority of EV owner survey respondents (70%) ranked 15 of the 20 most common app features as highly desirable. Remote door lock/unlock controls and the ability to view the vehicle diagnostics, data and vehicle health (such as tire pressure) were among the most valued apps.

Yet of those 15 valued apps, Wards finds only eight of those features are widely available.

In addition, respondents wanted advanced features, including the phone as key technology, that just a few manufacturers offer.

Although dealers can’t change the apps available through their OEMs, they can boost customer interest and dealership satisfaction scores by ensuring shoppers know what apps are available and understand how to use them.

“We always say satisfaction levels (rise) when the dealer is involved directly with the point of sale, explaining core features,” says Norton. “Obviously, satisfaction is higher because customers understand important features.”

Dealers should ensure customers have points of contact for questions and tutorials long after the day of sale.

Bill Feinstein, dealer principal, Planet Honda, Tilton, N.H., understands the need for such education. He recently began to drive his summer car and had to refamiliarize himself with much of the technology.

“We’ve gone from cars being very standardized. You would get in the car and have a gearshift, a steering wheel, an accelerator and a brake, no matter what model you bought,” he says. “Now we have different infotainment systems, head units and other very distinct elements from car to car. The functionality is different. It’s important that dealers and OEMs are both cognizant of that.”

Feinstein notes BMW takes a proactive approach by tracking dealers on the percentage of customers that activate apps after delivery.

Even when OEMs don’t use such systems, Feinstein says training customers on apps is vital for satisfaction.

Delivery specialists in Feinstein’s dealerships, including his Honda store, explain the tech to each buyer and are available to answer questions and otherwise consult with them after delivery. Planet Honda, Union, N.J., now part of Lithia Motors, is consistently one of the most profitable Honda stores in the U.S.

“Salespeople are great at building rapport with customers, but they’re not necessarily great at explaining tech,” he says. “And the people that are great at tech aren’t necessarily salespeople. I think they each have a role to play to get people excited about the tech and then to show them how to use it.”

Customers are excited by new cars but also are overwhelmed with information, he says.

That leads them to forget to ask questions or not remember what they were told.

Besides having delivery specialists available, Feinstein’s dealerships host encore delivery events. Customers can return to the dealership or ask a delivery specialist to come to them to again explain apps and answer questions. The specialists also will virtually meet with customers.

“There are a lot of ways to be creative about this,” says Feinstein. “I think it all begins with understanding the customer’s pain points and dedicating yourself to solving problems.”

High-tech apps for battery-electric vehicles add value to those rides…until customers become confused or frustrated with their performance.

Poor online technology can mar a bank’s reputation. OEMs face similar backlash if owners struggle with connectivity and functionality of smartphone apps, navigation systems and other tech, says Jason Norton, senior manager-global automotive consulting, J.D. Power.

“If I use my navigation system one time and can’t figure it out, the likelihood of me going back to that technology is very low,” Norton tells Wards. “If I can simply go to Google Maps or Apple Maps or Waze from my phone and get the information I need quickly, what’s my incentive to use the technology that I can’t understand?”

Norton bases his comments on J.D. Power’s OEM EV App Benchmark Study findings. Although some brands receive top customer scores for their technology, others fail even at basic functions such as charging station identification, vehicle range and even mobile phone charging information.


More than half of EV owner respondents report they use their brand’s app at least half of the time they drive for vital information such as the previously mentioned range and charging station locations. When owners stop using their car’s apps, it’s likely because the free trial period has ended.

“Overall, customers are not finding the functionality and the speed of the application matching the usability for the price point,” Norton says. “If you’re going to charge me for something, it has to be something that I can use and that provides value to me.”

And buyers value speed and functionality to monitor their cars’ charging processes, range (70%) and charging station locales (85%).

New technology is constantly available, and OEMs often can transmit it to cars through the cloud, but functionality often is lacking, says Norton.

“Many of the new entries are still lagging a little bit,” he says. “The OEMs are still trying to figure out what these customers really need to utilize on an everyday basis.”

The answer may be in the results of a Wards survey.

The majority of EV owner survey respondents (70%) ranked 15 of the 20 most common app features as highly desirable. Remote door lock/unlock controls and the ability to view the vehicle diagnostics, data and vehicle health (such as tire pressure) were among the most valued apps.

Yet of those 15 valued apps, Wards finds only eight of those features are widely available.

In addition, respondents wanted advanced features, including the phone as key technology, that just a few manufacturers offer.

Although dealers can’t change the apps available through their OEMs, they can boost customer interest and dealership satisfaction scores by ensuring shoppers know what apps are available and understand how to use them.

“We always say satisfaction levels (rise) when the dealer is involved directly with the point of sale, explaining core features,” says Norton. “Obviously, satisfaction is higher because customers understand important features.”

Dealers should ensure customers have points of contact for questions and tutorials long after the day of sale.
 

Bill Feinstein, dealer principal, Planet Honda, Tilton, N.H., understands the need for such education. He recently began to drive his summer car and had to refamiliarize himself with much of the technology.

“We’ve gone from cars being very standardized. You would get in the car and have a gearshift, a steering wheel, an accelerator and a brake, no matter what model you bought,” he says. “Now we have different infotainment systems, head units and other very distinct elements from car to car. The functionality is different. It’s important that dealers and OEMs are both cognizant of that.”

Feinstein notes BMW takes a proactive approach by tracking dealers on the percentage of customers that activate apps after delivery.

Even when OEMs don’t use such systems, Feinstein says training customers on apps is vital for satisfaction.

Delivery specialists in Feinstein’s dealerships, including his Honda store, explain the tech to each buyer and are available to answer questions and otherwise consult with them after delivery. Planet Honda, Union, N.J., now part of Lithia Motors, is consistently one of the most profitable Honda stores in the U.S.

“Salespeople are great at building rapport with customers, but they’re not necessarily great at explaining tech,” he says. “And the people that are great at tech aren’t necessarily salespeople. I think they each have a role to play to get people excited about the tech and then to show them how to use it.”

Customers are excited by new cars but also are overwhelmed with information, he says.

That leads them to forget to ask questions or not remember what they were told.

Besides having delivery specialists available, Feinstein’s dealerships host encore delivery events. Customers can return to the dealership or ask a delivery specialist to come to them to again explain apps and answer questions. The specialists also will virtually meet with customers.

“There are a lot of ways to be creative about this,” says Feinstein. “I think it all begins with understanding the customer’s pain points and dedicating yourself to solving problems.”

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