According to the J.D. Power and Associates 2002 Feature Contenting Report (FCR), features that allow drivers to keep their eyes on the road—such as hands-free wireless cell phones and steering wheel controls—are making their way to the top of the most desired features consumers want to see in their new vehicles.The study, based on the responses from approximately 117,800 new-vehicle owners, explores what features consumers currently have on their vehicles, what features they want on their next vehicle and what price they are willing to pay for those features.Steering wheel controls, which allow the driver to shift gears, adjust temperature settings or change radio stations while maintaining focus on changing road conditions, exhibit the highest potential among the new features included in the 2002 study. An average of 79 percent of consumers desire steering wheel controls on their next new vehicle.A wireless cell phone feature, with built-in hands-free operation, currently has an overall desirability of 41 percent. However, legislation banning the use of hand-held cell phones while driving may help propel hands-free technologies in the future.“With more traditional safety-related features, such as airbags and stability control, continuing to be the most desired features among U.S. consumers, it’s not surprising that consumers are also showing interest in new features that help cut down on driver distraction,” said Neal Oddes, manager of product research at J.D. Power and Associates. Side impact airbags and “smart” passenger airbags (which use sensors to adjust inflation based on the size of the occupant) are the two emerging features that are most desired by consumers, though safety features that help the driver maintain control of the vehicle, not just survive an accident, are also in high demand. Such features include electronic traction control and stability control systems. According to the study, the desirability and acceptance of many emerging technologies benefit from increased market penetration over time. However, the study finds that in the case of navigation systems, consumer desire has increased faster than its actual penetration into the market. This is due in large part to the gap between the actual price for navigation systems versus the price consumers are willing to pay.“Over the past five years, consumer desire for navigation systems has shown the largest increase of all the emerging features,” said Oddes. “Manufacturers have fueled the fire by exponentially increasing the availability of this feature across their product lines. However, until actual pricing of navigation systems aligns with expected pricing, many consumers may see it as something they can do without.”The 2002 APEAL Feature Contenting Report examines the desirability of 47 traditional and emerging vehicle features in categories of vehicle safety, performance, comfort and convenience. The study, now in its seventh year, includes responses from owners of new 2002 and early-release 2003 model-year vehicles.Headquartered in Westlake Village, Calif., J.D. Power and Associates is a global marketing information services firm operating in business sectors including market research, forecasting, consulting, training and customer satisfaction. The firm’s quality and satisfaction measurements are based on responses from millions of consumers annually.