Are Customers Over the Moon with Tesla Software Updates?

By Kristin Kolodge and Kathy Rizk

From the introduction of the smartphone, one feature that surprised and delighted customers was the over-the-air (OTA) software update that improved functionality with minimal input required from the user. After an update, not only were smartphones typically able to perform more tasks, they also provided the smartphone owner with the satisfaction of always having access to the most up-to-date features.

This technology is now being offered in varying degrees to some vehicle owners, with Tesla offering the most OTA capability. According to recent focus groups of Tesla owners conducted by J.D. Power, the technology is well-received. In fact, many participants indicated that the continuous improvement updates provide Tesla owners with almost a new vehicle experience. This differs widely from the experience of other vehicle owners who rarely, if ever, receive software updates during their vehicle’s entire lifespan.

Furthermore, software updates in traditional OEM vehicles typically includes a trip to the dealer—and a cost—while  Tesla owners can perform the update with a push of a button. Said one Tesla Model S owner, “I think it’s OTA that separates them (Tesla). You are left with the impression of always being in a new vehicle.”

Tesla OTA updates occasionally have caused headaches for some users by losing personal profiles or overwriting an owner’s preferences. One Model S owner found that “sometimes an update will accidently change a setting and I’ll have to look through each time for the new ones because they don’t describe what it does. That’s one of the problems.”

And some updates have been deemed not as friendly by Tesla owners, causing them to wish they could go back to the previous software version. While there may be a few headaches with the updates and some wonder, “What is this update really going to contain?,” Tesla owners  didn’t seem to hesitate when it came to hitting the update button.

Given that more and more vehicles will be offered with the capability to receive OTA software updates, what is it that “traditional” car owners want automatically updated in their vehicles?

According to a recent J.D. Power survey of consumers on this subject, the most preferred vehicle software updates involve those which focus on safety, service recalls and service updates that eliminate the time and hassle of having to visit a dealer. Lower on the preference list are entertainment updates and pay-per-use features (like navigation). Not surprisingly, younger consumers (those aged 18-34) are the most predisposed to receive all types of updates.

If Your Car’s Software Could Be Updated OTA, What Features Would You Want Automatically Updated?

Tesla focus group participants agree that OTA provides both the convenience of having many service issues corrected without ever needing to go to the dealership to complete the repair, as well as the speed with which the repair can be implemented.

Besides software updates, over-the-air connectivity also allows for two-way communication between consumers and product manufacturers. Data about how the vehicle is being used can be fed back to the manufacturer to improve quality and performance, understand what technologies are being used or not, and how frequently or infrequently these technologies are being used.

Consumers surveyed recognize the positive aspects of having their vehicle connected with more than half wanting this capability. As automakers discuss their privacy and security policies more openly with consumers, we anticipate the likelihood will grow even more.

As with smartphones, software updates will inevitably become more commonplace in vehicles. While consumers will likely continue to wonder what’s contained in each update, we suspect that curiosity will get the best of them and, like most others, they will gradually hit the “accept update” button with less trepidation.

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Kristin Kolodge is executive director for driver interaction and HMI at J.D. Power and is currently behind on iOS updates on both of her phones.

Kathy Rizk is director for automotive consulting at J.D. Power. She just updated her Android phone and is learning to navigate the complete redesign of “Contacts.” 

The information contained herein has been obtained by J.D. Power from sources believed to be reliable. However, because of the possibility of human or mechanical error by our sources, J.D. Power does not guarantee the accuracy, adequacy, or completeness of any information and is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for the results obtained from use of such information. 

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