TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Young drivers and their preferences will guide infotainment systems in future product, a top Chrysler executive says.

Speaking at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars here, the auto maker’s head of connectivity and infotainment says his company is tailoring its Uconnect system for the next generation of car buyers.

“Our future drivers are expecting a lot – that’s why we like to call them the ‘screenagers,’ because they don’t like life without screens,” Marios Zenios says.

That age group has the world at its fingertips via phones, tablets, laptops and televisions. A humorous Uconnect promo shown to the crowd here features a teen wishing he could play Xbox while driving, much to the dismay of his mother.

Zenios says auto makers face several challenges in appealing to young drivers and the parents who allow them to drive. Telematics systems must not distract, but they also must keep up with the demands of users who want to update their Facebook, send a tweet, check into Foursquare and find a Yelp review all before arriving at their destination.

“They grow up in a world where they don’t know life without the Internet,” Zenios says, “and they are slow to change their behaviors.”

Chrysler says it has studied the wants of young drivers and has narrowed its focus to four priorities: The voice of the customer, easy-to-use controls, “smart” cars and the fully connected vehicle.

Recent developments at Uconnect reflect that vision. Though neither is exactly a young driver’s first vehicle choice, Chrysler will be measuring audience response to embedded WiFi systems in the ’13 Ram 1500 pickup truck and high-performance SRT Viper.

“We always keep the customer as our top priority. This drives our motivation,” Zenios says.

Chrysler also emphasizes that it has modified its voice-recognition software to make man-machine interaction more conversational and less demanding. That technology is available in current models.

But the auto maker has not ignored the needs of mature drivers, many of whom have expressed concern over data privacy. Zenios says Chrysler’s telematics technology keeps data secure, but one can never be too cautious. “We have to respect the customer.”

Though most of Chrysler’s telematics are developed in-house, the auto maker is open to working with developers everywhere from Auburn Hills, MI, to Silicon Valley. “We need smart people all over the world working together to develop apps that match our developments,” he says.

afoley@wardsauto.com