What is the most important thing for car buyers?

A recent survey from Autotrader took a look at what car buyers care about most when they're in the market for a new vehicle. The answers may be surprising.

Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters/File
A woman touches the display inside a Volvo car during the media day ahead of the 84th Geneva Motor Show at the Palexpo Arena in Geneva (March 4, 2014).

Over the past decade and a half, much of the world has changed the way that it consumes media. We download music in seconds, rather than visiting record shops. We use gadgets like Roku and apps like Sling instead of keeping pricey cable TV subscriptions. And most of us emptied our gloveboxes of service station roadmaps years ago. (Though in fairness, we stopped stowing our gloves there ages ago, too.)

At the center of all these changes sits one device: the smartphone. And according to Autotrader's Car Tech Impact Study, the ease with which auto shoppers can pair their smartphone with a car's infotainment system is a major factor in purchase decisions.

To come to that conclusion, Autotrader worked with marketing firms KS&R, Inc. and Research Now to survey 1,012 American vehicle owners, all of whom were 18 or older.  The poll was conducted online last September. 

Admittedly, web-based surveys aren't always great at gauging public opinion. The data is necessarily limited to participants with web access -- not to mention those inclined to take polls -- so we ought to view the data with a tiny bit of skepticism. 

However, the survey does confirm the results of other polls, which have tended to reveal that auto shoppers are very interested in high tech features. Among Autotrader's findings:

  • 77 percent of respondents said that finding a car with everything on their technology wish list was more important than the color of the car. (That's eight points higher than last year.) 
  • 65 percent of respondents said they would switch car brands if it meant that they could get the technology features they wanted. (That figure is up nine percent from 2014.)
  • 57 percent of respondents wished that automakers would stop trying to develop their own infotainment systems (looking at you, Toyota) and focus their energies on making it easier to sync smartphones with third-party providers like Apple (CarPlay) or Google (Android Auto).
  • 47 percent of respondents said that they would sync their smartwatch to a car's infotainment system (if they owned a smartwatch, that is).
  • 46 percent of respondents said that they would shell out up to $1,499 for an interactive dashboard.
  • 39 of respondents said that they'd rather use the navigation app on their smartphone than the system built into their dashboards. (That's less than half of the study participants, obviously, but it's also up 19 percent from 2014.)

That said, infotainment isn't the only area in which consumers are hungry for advanced technology.  A huge 70 percent of respondents said that they wanted autonomous features in their next cars -- features like parking assist and collision avoidance -- and were more likely to consider vehicles that had those offerings.

In fact, safety features trumped infotainment by a fairly big margin. Among respondents, 83 percent said that those features were likely to be more important factors in their future purchasing decisions.

The big winners in the industry will be those who manage to include both sets of features, says Autotrader research analyst Rachelle Petusky: "Consumers have learned to integrate the technology into their lives. When they get into their cars they expect to stay connected with simple and easy smartphone integration. The manufacturers who blend that with autonomous features are the ones who will win."

This article first appeared at The Car Connection.

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