Like it or not, a new type of consumer is having a profound impact on the automotive industry.
This consumer isn’t necessarily a Millennial; it is anyone who owns a smartphone. The Internet of Things is changing how everyone, everywhere is interacting with the world.
Most of these connected consumers still like cars and enjoy driving, but they now expect vehicles to integrate their mobile devices, or better still, amplify the powers of those devices inside the car with bigger and better displays, more features, more apps and more customized experiences.
Consumer electronics and Silicon Valley have introduced drivers to the concept of having a great interactive “User Experience.” Boiled down to basics, a great UX translates into advanced technology that is simple, attractive and easy for ordinary people to use and understand.
Independent surveys tell us poor user experiences with vehicle infotainment systems are the biggest killer of buyer satisfaction, while a great UX differentiates products and attracts new customers.
Looking at the advertising for the latest Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz E300 and a host of other new vehicles, you would hardly know they have great engines and dynamic performance. Instead the focus is on advanced reconfigurable displays, connectivity and machine intelligence.
In recognition of this revolution in vehicle design, WardsAuto is adding another “10 Best” to its repertoire of testing and event schedules. We have been testing engines for the Wards 10 Best Engines list for 22 years, and we’ve been evaluating vehicle cabins for Wards 10 Best Interiors for six years.
Now, we have just begun testing for Wards 10 Best UX. We’re working our way down a list of the industry’s 28 latest vehicles, from ultra-luxury models such as the Bentley Bentayga to affordable family vehicles such as the Chevrolet Malibu and Chrysler Pacifica and everything in between.
We will consider simple things, such as how easy it is to pair systems with phones and how intuitive controls are, to more complex evaluations regarding the design of displays and graphics, navigation features and head-up displays.
And, because advanced driver-assist features such as lane-keeping, smart cruise control and others are becoming an integral part of the driving experience, we are including these systems as part of our UX evaluations. Family friendliness is another key priority, because a good UX now can make or break a family vacation.
Like Wards 10 Best Engines and Wards 10 Best interiors, we also will look at value from the everyday consumer’s perspective. One or two fire-breathing high-performance engines usually make the 10 Best Engines list every year, but you will also usually find hybrid-electric and EVs on the list as well. The same is true in the way we evaluate interiors.
Yes, we love great engines and brilliantly designed interiors, but in this case we are focusing first on the idea that there are consumers out there who don’t care about exhaust notes or a finely crafted king’s joint. They want maximum connectivity delivered in a package that is safe, limits distraction and can get them through a family road trip without a meltdown.
The final question editors ask themselves after 10 days of driving, making videos, writing stories and generally obsessing over minutia is, does the engine help sell the car? Does the interior help sell the car? And now it will be: Does the UX help sell the car?
Despite our focus on UX this summer, we will not rule out the possibility that some 10 Best UX winners also may turn out to have engines and interiors worthy of 10 Best trophies as well, but we will have to wait until January and April to learn that.
So we are fastening our seatbelts (General Motors’ Teen Driver Assist won’t play the radio unless you do) and hitting the road. The winners will be announced in early September, and we will recognize the winning teams with a special ceremony at the WardsAuto User Experience Conference Oct. 4 at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, MI.
Wards 10 Best UX Nominees