While COVID and social distancing poses challenges to automotive research, it also provides unique opportunities to assess the in-vehicle experience and identify opportunities in future makes and models. User feedback on what they like, dislike, or find confusing about their current vehicle can also highlight what they look for in their next vehicle purchase.
The availability of remote interview tools makes it possible to collect valuable data from users. With users at home, conducting an in-vehicle interview can be as simple as asking the participant to step into their garage and hop in the driver’s seat with their cell phone. Users who otherwise may be unable to drive to a testing facility for a 60-minute interview, can more easily join a remote interview at their home. This also allows for significant geographic diversity in the sample. In these interviews, researchers can uncover insight into several aspects of the in-vehicle experience:
Getting to know the car (learnability)
As functionality increases in-car, so does complexity and the possibility for user confusion. For those who have purchased a vehicle within the past few years, familiarity with new technology will be high, but with that familiarity will come higher expectations for intuitiveness and ease of use. For those who have not purchased a new vehicle recently, they may have limited experience with advances in in-car technology. Because of this, it is important to provide multiple and flexible pathways to teach users how to easily and efficiently use the features of the vehicle. Those with high familiarity may only need a quick overview to understand how their new vehicle differs from their previous car, while those with low familiarity may need more detailed tutorials to explain systems they have never used.
Connecting with the car (mobile integration)
Mobile integration comes from two angles: integrating mobile device content into the infotainment system while driving and using a vehicle app to manage vehicle features.
A driver’s desire to access their mobile phone has extended to their time in the car. Familiarity with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto has resulted in the expectation to integrate their phone’s content and apps into their vehicle.
Apps connected to the vehicle present many opportunities to improve the in-vehicle experience. As an example, if someone likes to use their seat warmers on cold days, the ability to turn the seat warmers on prior to getting into the vehicle allows users to feel more comfortable when sitting in their vehicle.
Back to basics (standard vehicle features)
The in-car experience is defined by multiple touch points. While the infotainment system is an essential element of the user experience, timeless elements of the car heavily inform user’s perception of the vehicle experience. If the seat is uncomfortable, the in-car experience will not be enjoyable. If the rear pillars create significant blind spots, the driver may not feel safe on the road. If the cupholders are not big enough, the user may not feel the vehicle was designed for their needs. These are not revolutionary statements, but as the in-car experience evolves, it is important not to neglect these standard elements. A sophisticated and well-designed infotainment system can go to waste if the user is uncomfortable or feels unsafe.
Along for the ride (passenger experience)
Drivers are not the only users of the vehicle, and passengers are an important factor in the purchase process and user experience. If the user frequently transports an aging parent, the ability to easily enter and exit the vehicle becomes an important part of the user experience. If frequently transporting family or friends, the comfort and spaciousness of the back seat takes on greater importance. Even if the driver experience is pleasing, a negative experience for passengers can diminish the experience for the driver since they feel the vehicle does not meet their needs or the needs of their loved ones.