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The infotainment system of the BMW M3.

BMW

I tried three times, but could not pair my smartphone with the infotainment system in a sparkling new BMW M3. The system stalled without any indication of why. Finally, I quit in disgust. Ugh.

I am not alone in my frustration. Last month, Consumer Reports noted that the biggest headache reported by new-vehicle buyers is in-car electronics. The number of complaints has increased, dragging down quality scores, said the widely-followed publication.

Common issues: unresponsive touch screens or a reluctance to pair a phone. An even larger list of infotainment irritants includes multi-use controllers that don't function properly, said CR.

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Infotainment issues are not new and they are apparently pervasive. In the summer, J.D. Power and Associates' latest Initial Quality Study (IQS) reported an overall jump in the auto industry's average of problems per 100 vehicles – to 116 problems from 113 in 2013.

What caused the increase? More issues with technology, such as Bluetooth pairing, voice recognition and audio systems. Not surprisingly, all-new models – models with significant or entirely new designs and new technology – suffer from a reported average of 128 problems per 100 vehicles versus 113 for vehicles that remained unchanged from year to year.

This is now a chronic, pervasive problem, a costly and inexplicable one. J.D. Power notes that buyers who do not suffer problems are significantly more loyal than those who suffer from five or more reported problems. Buyers unhappy with a problem-plagued vehicle are more likely to move along.

To replace a loyal buyer costs more in marketing than retaining a loyal one. How much more? Billions, said David Sargent, vice-president of global automotive at J.D. Power, when he released the IQS results at an Automotive Press Association luncheon in Detroit.

In his Detroit remarks reported by Automotive News, Sargent said car companies are in a squeeze. On the one hand, they want to introduce trouble-free technology because it's demanded by customers. On the other, "almost all auto makers are struggling to do this flawlessly, with some consumers indicating that the technology is hard to understand, difficult to use, or simply does not always work as designed."

I have little patience for this sort of thing, especially in a BMW sedan with a base price of $74,000. Something as simple as Bluetooth pairing should always work. I was pairing an iPhone, not some oddball piece of technology from Mars.

Worse, as Automotive New reports, Sargent told reporters that the auto industry will not likely deliver overall improvement in this area for perhaps three or four more years.

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Really? If so, the whole auto industry should take a collective walk of shame.

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