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Car Tech Causes Frustration, Upgrade Envy

March 2, 2015

According to the recently released Annual Vehicle Dependability Study from J.D. Power and Associates, in-car technology is a common source of frustration for car owners. The study found that technologies such as connectivity and communication systems are most likely to malfunction after three years of ownership. While it is unclear why such systems break down after—or sometimes even before—the three-year mark, one thing is certain: the failure of in-car technologies is a major problem for consumers.

Interestingly, it is problematic technology that draws people to newer models. It is specifically what causes people with perfectly working older models to suddenly upgrade. Automotive News recently shed some light on what it calls “upgrade envy.”

The publication cited two examples where folks with older but still fine vehicles traded up to get more in-vehicle gadgetry. First was Mike Fine, a satisfied owner of a 2011 Nissan Xterra, who became unsatisfied upon seeing his son’s 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Then there was Bill Russell, who owned a 2002 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck that was later ditched for a 2014 model.

Fine saw the Grand Cherokee’s push-button start, app-filled touchscreen and Bluetooth connectivity, among others. These made him decide to let go of his four-year-old Nissan and get a Jeep of his own. Meanwhile, 64-year-old Russell was amazed that the 2014 Silverado was without traditional controls, and in their place are a display with icons that resemble those found in his iPhone. He also loved the backup camera.

The cases of Fine and Russell both illustrate how the evolution of car technologies caused a dramatic change in consumer behavior. Buyers want all the good stuff on their rides, so they will make their car-buying decision based on what the ride has to offer in terms of technology. J.D. Power’s study echoed this as well: while appearance and exterior design remain the main considerations for not choosing a particular model, the lack of technology is now also a deciding factor.

Upgrade envy originally applied to smartphones, but now that cars have become more high-tech, this applies to them too. According to Automotive News, upgrade envy for autos originate from technologies that make today’s models safer and easier to drive compared to their older counterparts.

It is important to point out that the “older counterparts” in this context are not even very old. Take Fine’s Xterra, for instance—it is only four years old, but it does not even have a few of the tech offerings which come standard in 2014 models. Car technology has evolved so fast that a four-year-old Nissan seems older and outdated.

Now that consumers want vehicles loaded with advanced technologies, automakers are expected to deliver them. By the end of the decade, the technology that seem exclusive now—like lane-guiding systems—will be more common. Of course, more people are expected to trade in their “outdated” vehicles for newer ones.

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