Today's vehicles offer a myriad of features and services but understanding how and if these are being used by consumers isn't often truly understood by OEMs. With ever-increasing connectivity, it is now possible to acquire data about the vehicle's performance and how it is being used, but how to access this information and its relevance is in the early stages. A new project between Harman and J.D. Power claims it can change this and provide OEMs and Tier Ones with an insight that could make cars safer, more relevant or offer a better user experience. We spoke to Sandip Ranjhan, Senior Vice President, Harman Connected Services about the alliance and its expectations for the project.

How did the partnership between Harman and J.D. Power come about? Is there an existing history between the companies?

After an unrelated business meeting with others in J.D. Power, Sanjay Dhawan, our President of Harman Connected Services, reached out to Doug Betts of J.D. Power for a discussion on other potential synergies. The two had some common experiences given Betts' recent stint at Apple in Silicon Valley and the discussion quickly led to ideas of how the two companies could work together.

What was the background to the alliance?

By collecting and analysing the data we aim to validate the features that aren't being used and the things that are.

Harman is focussed on the experience, wherever that might be; car, home or just on the move. Increasingly complex functions and features mean that in some instances, the user experience may not be as successful as envisaged. Perhaps it doesn't meet the consumer's expectations. For example, car interfaces can differ widely between brands, leading to controls such as indicator stalks being on the left or right of the steering wheel. You might also have voice control, a touch screen, haptics or a mix of all of these to control the navigation. That can be confusing or frustrating, with the driver thinking 'it's not like my other car' or 'this used to be much easier in the last model' etc. By collecting and analysing the data we aim to validate the features that aren't being used and the things that are.

How will you work together?

We plan to combine our data and insights. J.D. Power gathers its data through consumer surveys and we will collect ours from the connected car. Data Streams are mapped to the J.D. Power Voice of the Customer research portal to serve as a standard framework. Vehicle data and customer survey data will then be merged and analysed to understand how the driver's interaction and contextual information about the vehicle's environment will affect the overall performance. As well as improving consumer experiences, it could also help to identify redundant features, offering useful cost savings by removing them.

What data will you be collecting from the car?

To begin with, only data specific to areas that have been known to cause customer dissatisfaction will be collected. We base this upon many years of J.D. Power's consumer research. 

Are you trialling the system yet?

Yes, we are already at that stage, using an internal fleet of connected vehicles used for testing.

Consumers will obviously have concerns about privacy. How do you reassure them you aren't recording specific data about them?

We can reassure consumers that data will only be collected—in cooperation with OEMs—from those who opt-in.

We can reassure consumers that data will only be collected—in cooperation with OEMs—from those who opt-in. Data will also be anonymised, encrypted and aggregated to protect consumer privacy.

Can you give me some examples of the kind of things you could look at?

Sure, one example could be gear shifting. You might have a driver complaining about awkward gear changes; perhaps it's too early or too late. We will be able to compare that input from the driver with real data of shift points occurring at a specific rev range. There are infotainment examples too; we could look at customer complaints about voice recognition and compare with how and when they are actually using voice recognition. We can go further too; if they stop using the voice function, we can identify what buttons they use instead and we can also find out if the voice recognition was native or Siri. This can tell OEMs what the issues in the field actually are, instead of 'the voice recognition isn't any good'.

You mentioned OEMs. Has any signed up for this?

We have already had preliminary discussions with several OEMs and there is considerable interest from them. We can't name OEMs that will be part of the pilot programme, but we are ready to start rolling this out now.

OEMs already run clinics, focus groups and market research. Why do they need this as well?

There are hundreds of variables that could impact why a customer might be dissatisfied with a specific aspect of their vehicle, both internal and external. Contextualised information, on this scale and over extended periods of time, will assist designers, planners and engineers to improve both current cars and those in the future.