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Software and Recalls Raise Trust Issues with Auto Technology

Volvo Driverless Car. Photo by By DimiTVP (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Volvo Driverless Car. Photo by By DimiTVP (Own work) CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve covered vehicle technologies for some years now and in the last few years the greatest advancements have been with vehicle software.

More of what was once purely mechanical processes has been taken over by electronics and software. This includes once simple mechanical systems such as those used in the raising and lowering of windows to vehicle braking moving from hydraulics to fully-electronic systems. Then there is the increasingly sophisticated software used to operate engines and transmissions to improve fuel economy and emissions, to collision avoidance technologies. Many vehicles now come equipped with 4G and higher wireless access as a standard feature allowing for seamless connectivity to web and cloud services, and to connect to today’s smart devices.

According to a New York Times story, today’s cars use over 100 million lines of code that operate. That is more than what Facebook uses or the Large Hadron Collider that peers into the universe at the quantum scale ( With autonomous vehicle technology only a few years away from becoming mainstream, the software sophistication in a modern vehicle will truly be astounding.

There is just one problem, one that anyone who has worked with computers will attest to. Not everything works as it should.

J.D. Power’s recent SafetyIQ study ( finds that over the last five years, consumer complaints about vehicle software have been growing, with 2016 “already on pace with the record-setting level of 2015.” So far, some 202 formal complaints were filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in regards to software that controls the technology in vehicles:

“NHTSA had received 204 software-related complaints during the same time a year ago, and logged a total of 615 for the full year in 2015, surpassing the previous annual record of 505 set in 2014. During the past five years, consumers have registered 2,011 complaints related to automotive software with the NHTSA.”

J.D Power then integrated the NHTSA data with its own automotive data and finds a connection between consumer’s complaints about software and recall decisions. Recalls are up some 45 per cent between 2014 and 2015. Technical Service Bulletins have also risen in regards to software issues.

What does this mean? As vehicle electronics and software becomes increasingly sophisticated, vehicle makers and those who sell and service vehicles, will need to shift their focus when it comes to customer service.

Vehicle sales and service will increasingly become about software and electronic maintenance. Customer loyalty will be around how well one deals with software issues, especially vehicle software that impacts safety and convenience

Recent studies on consumer vehicle purchases show that the choice of a vehicle often comes down to the kinds of software and connectivity the vehicle comes equipped with. Problems with those systems and software impacts the vehicle owner’s experience and trust in the brand.

While vehicle makers and their software partners are starting to address the problems, the J.D. Power study suggests there is a lot of work to be done before complaints about vehicle software can begin to come down.

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