General Motors Co rolling out its own version of Apple Inc's Genius Bar to prevent frustration over its in-car technology from driving away potential customers.
Touch-screen and voice-activated entertainment and navigation systems play a pivotal role in attracting car shoppers, but so far companies, including GM, have struggled to make their systems intuitive and effective.
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GM believes the real problem stems from the lack of training provided to new drivers. As a result, the No. 1 U.S. automaker is dispatching 25 tech-savvy specialists to its 4,400 U.S. dealerships to show how to teach customers about technology.
"You see a lot of people get into the vehicle, and they can't figure out the damned system," said Mark Harland, manager of GM's connected customer team.
"They get frustrated, and they get online and bash it, and that ends up on J.D. Power and Associates," he said, referring to the leading U.S. researcher into consumer satisfaction in the auto industry.
GM's specialists, who are mostly in their 20s, will communicate with GM engineers on software improvements. GM also has a dedicated team at its call center in Austin to answer questions about in-car technology.
GM is also requiring that its dealers have at least one staff member trained in all of GM's in-car systems - MyLink, CUE and IntelliLink - by the end of this year.
"Some customers don't utilize all the features on these new cars," Robert Ruiz, general manager of Capitol Chevrolet in Austin, said. "If we don't know to use them either, we can't teach them."
Earlier this year, a Booz & Company survey showed that 85 percent of auto executives predicted in-vehicle technology would see widespread adoption over the next five years. But many of the current systems have been poorly reviewed.
Last week, Consumer Reports magazine panned GM's new CUE system for its Cadillac lineup, calling it "convoluted and frustrating." The magazine also lambasted Ford Motor Co's Touch system.
Harland said GM should adopt strategies from consumer electronics companies like Apple or Best Buy Co Inc to help consumers manage and understand their vehicle's features. It's up to the car companies to offer ongoing support if they're going to be competitive, he said.
"It's not good enough to just give someone a set of keys and say, 'See you later'," Harland said. "We need to help people with the technology."
(Editing by Eric Walsh)