“The voice recognition system is quite poor, so I gave up on it pretty much at the very beginning.”

I’ve been analyzing vehicle owners’ opinions of quality and dependability for more than two decades, so this is one of thousands of consumers I’ve encountered expressing their frustration with their infotainment system. In fact, among the hundreds of thousands of survey responses we’ve analyzed in recent years, many comments end with the owner giving up and abandoning built-in voice recognition technology. I’ve done it myself.

Before delving more into this topic, let’s talk about some good news.

Automakers have made significant strides throughout the years to build better vehicles and there is no question that vehicles are, on average, more dependable than ever before. The J.D. Power 2021 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study measures the level of problems experienced by owners of 3-year-old 2018 model-year vehicles. This year, the overall average is 121 problems per 100 vehicles, which is the best performance in the study’s history. All eight major problem categories in the study improved this year.

Owners view dependability as much more than the ability of their vehicle to transport them from Point A to Point B without breaking down. They also measure dependability by whether they’re able to count on equipment and systems functioning properly, consistently and in the way they expect. When this expectation isn’t met, owners also view this as a lack of dependability, and these types of issues account for 40 percent of all problems in this year’s study.

Infotainment systems continue to be a major pain point for vehicles owners; they have been the leading cause of complaints for many years now. Specifically, the top issues in this year’s study relate to Bluetooth® connectivity and built-in voice recognition. They were also the top two problems when these same 2018 model-year vehicles were first measured in the J.D. Power 2018 Initial Quality Study after 90 days of ownership. Just imagine how frustrating it is to still be living with the same problems three years later. It’s clear that, thus far, recalibrating settings or software updates haven’t offered a viable solution for most consumers. Nor have most consumers “gotten used to it.”

What is surprising and perplexing for owners is that many built-in voice recognition systems frequently misunderstand commands when this technology has been available in vehicles since the early 2000s. Adding to owners’ frustration is the experience they are having with relatively successful implementations of similar technology in their smartphones and in-home virtual assistants. This comparison, while possibly unfair to automakers, makes someone’s ongoing problem with their vehicle’s built-in voice recognition more obvious.

Technology is costly for automakers to produce and expensive for vehicle owners to purchase. It is also a primary determinant of which vehicle a consumer chooses to own. The resulting user experience helps determine whether an owner will use the technology on a regular basis or abandon it and feel like they wasted their money.

While automakers are working hard to provide vehicle owners with a satisfying infotainment experience, work remains as built-in voice recognition, built-in navigation and built-in Bluetooth® connectivity are among the most often-cited problems in the 2020 IQS, our latest study of 2020 model-year vehicles.

The bottom line is automakers need to break this cycle. Those that don’t run the risk of losing customers to other brands. As one owner wrote, “I dislike [the infotainment system] so much that I will not purchase this brand of car again.”

So where do automakers go from here? Do they reluctantly hand much of the infotainment system over to the technology companies? Some are already heading down that road.