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Study: Drivers Increasingly Want Safe And Simple Dashboard Systems.

After automakers introduced complicated infotainment systems that confused many of their customers, new research shows drivers want safe and simple dashboard systems. The number of drivers who said they will prioritize ease of use in their next connected car system rose 7% from 2021 to 2023 while those who access audio through tapping on the dashboard increased 6%. “As we're getting all these new ways to interact, it's actually the old school way that’s growing,” Audacy’s Senior Director/Research and Insights Reggie Shah said this week at the NAB Show in Las Vegas.

Audacy conducted three online surveys using the Suzy Insights Platform for the study. The most recent wave was fielded March 13-20, 2023 among 1,025 participants aged 18+.

It found three fourths of connected car users say they value ease of access the most in a connected car system. “They love all these really cool new ways to access but they just want it to work,” Shah said. “There’s nothing more infuriating than not being able to tune in to music when you get into the car.”

Even as General Motors plans to drop support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto from new electric vehicles, the study shows today’s connected car experience is shaped by the phone. Eight in 10 connected car users listen to personal playlists through their phone in the car and six in ten user Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. One in five connected car listeners use radio apps. While that sounds low, keep in mind the vast majority of listening to broadcast radio in the car occurs via a traditional AM/FM receiver.

According to the survey, access to new audio options hasn’t led to a decrease in radio’s in-car cume. Nearly two thirds (63%) of connected car users listen to AM/FM radio in the car, in line with 62% among all respondents.

Controlling audio content is the top dashboard use among connected car users (60%). “Audio dominates the dashboard, more than navigation, more than making calls and more than accessing the voice assistant, which is really interesting, because we know that voice is supposed to be our savior for all those confusing screens,” Shah said.

The data shows that audio access is mainly tactile with voice control lagging behind. More than half of connected car users (53%) access in-car audio by tapping the dashboard or steering wheel, 26% dial the radio on the dashboard and 35% tap their phone. One in four (25%) use voice controls on their phone and 20% use voice control via the dashboard or steering wheel.

Although phone-based control is the norm now, connected car users want dashboard-based systems in future car purchases.

However, phone connectivity remains important for drivers. In future car purchases, 55% of connected car users say they want the ability to sync up with their phone, 43% value the ability to access remote vehicle features through the phone and 31% want voice activation.

Connected car users are looking for a seamless audio experience, according to the Audacy study. Nearly three quarters (72%) of connected car listeners who listen to podcasts say the ability to continue listening to a podcast when switching from home to car and back to home is important. And 43% who listen to radio want the same ability for listening to radio.

“These are the people who demand that ubiquitous access,” Shah told the NAB crowd. “We love these guys, advertisers love them, they're the most engaged with audio and their brand lift and their attention is off the charts.”

In a finding that AM broadcasters fighting for survival in the dashboard can take and run with, seven in ten drivers say AM radio access in cars is important after learning that AM radio stays on the air through crises in times of electrical and cellular outages. The same number of drivers say they are hesitant about buying new vehicles that don’t have AM radio access and four in ten wouldn’t consider a car that lacks this feature. Under 35s are equally as concerned about safety in the car.

Under 35 drivers are more likely to listen to podcasts in the car, to want a system managed by the dashboard, value radio and podcast continuity between the car and home and think AM radio is an important safety feature.

In fact, during COVID, AM news listening among under 35s grew faster than 35+.

Shah said the study illustrates some of the challenges users encounter from complex connected car systems. “I think the auto guys have some work to do,” he said.

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