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GM's Customer Focus Will Produce a Winning Infotainment Strategy

by Roger Lanctot | Jan 31, 2014

Two senior GM executives appear to be working and speaking at crosspurposes.  This isn’t necessarily unusual, but given the fact that the focus of their disagreement is the importance of infotainment systems, it is worthy of note.

Speaking at the J.D. Power & Associates Roundtable at the National Automobile Dealers Association gathering in New Orleans last week, Senior Vice President of General Motors Global Quality and Customer Experience Alicia Boler-Davis highlighted the work of multiple design teams and engineers to understand and define the next generation of infotainment systems.

In her words:

“One area where we’re intently focused right now is in-vehicle technology or infotainment. This area of Product Excellence continues to rank very high with customers when it comes to the overall performance of their vehicles. In fact, according to J.D. Power, customers across the industry report more audio, entertainment, and navigation problems than any other category.

“Infotainment research at GM actually started many years ago. Back in 2007 – the same year Apple introduced the iPhone – we embarked on a five -year study to understand how people use their car radios and navigation systems, as well as their phones, iPods, and other portable devices in their cars.

“We watched others venture into this area early on, so we wanted to make every effort to do the best we could with our new systems.

“In fact, we went so far as to send our infotainment system designers into the field to ride with customers to work, on errands… even on vacations!

“We learned a lot. Then we applied what we learned to new designs and interfaces. We tested our designs at customer clinics, then redesigned them and tested again.

“Of course, I’m simplifying the process here. The point is that we used exhaustive methods to incorporate the voice of the customer into our new infotainment systems from the start. We streamlined the hardware and software, we made the technology more intuitive and easier to use, and we built in brand differentiation along the way.”

(Credit the GM Authority newsletter for publishing the full transcript of her remarks: http://gmauthority.com/blog/2014/01/you-owe-it-to-yourself-to-read-these-remarks-by-gms-chief-of-global-quality-and-customer-experience-alicia-boler-davis/#ixzz2rz9wbLVm)

 

Meanwhile, in a recent interview in CarAdvice, GM incumbent executive vice president of product development Mark Reuss complained about the priority the company had placed on infotainment systems in the past 4-5 years, and the harm that focus had done and was doing to the brand and to vehicle performance.  Reuss asserted in the interview that issues such as ride quality, safety and other priorities had been de-emphasized.  In his words: 

“We went through an era here where there were certain people who thought that if we just did the coolest telematics and driver infotainment thing that we would win [in the market].

“Obviously nobody is going to care about how a car drives, how the car sounds, how the car crashes … it’s all going to be about infotainment.

“All those things are important, but are they the defining things on how good a car is? Not always. That won’t always separate you, but the core fundamentals of the car will.”

Boler-Davis’ remarks highlight the fact that GM, among many OEMs, is turning to consumer-oriented vehicle design.  This kind of approach represents precisely the kind of work GM or any car maker should be conducting.

No doubt this work must be conducted in the context of other vehicle design criteria.  But there may be an internal perception that infotainment is suddenly the sexy new area of focus to the detriment of other mission critical systems.

It is easy for other departments to feel de-emphasized or excluded when senior management is talking about Google, Android and LTE.  In fact, GM’s decision to join the Open Automotive Alliance has no doubt set off alarm bells throughout the organization – especially since Google has no comprehension whatsoever of automotive design criteria beyond capturing driver search results, serving up advertising and restricting Android modifications.

One cannot help but be sympathetic to Mark Reuss’ point of view.  But I cast my ballot in support of ongoing customer-focused research.  GM needs to solve the UI challenge of connected cars.  The sooner that problem is tackled, the sooner the “genius bars” in dealerships can be taken down and the Connected Customer Specialists can be recalled.

Reuss, like every other senior GM executive across every functional area in the organization, needs to recognize the importance of getting connectivity right and how it is already impacting the bottom line.  Being connected means enhanced safety – and Reuss’ task will be to ensure that connections are safely executed and ultimately deliver a safer and more delightful driving experience. 

Connectivity will mean higher customer satisfaction, higher customer retention, higher market share, and higher aftersales revenue.  What more does anyone need to know?

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