While penetration of navigation systems remains at less than 1% of the market, the number of cars, vans and light-trucks models that offer factory-installed navigation systems grew from 26 to 45, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2001 Navigation Usage and Satisfaction Study.

The number of vehicles with factory-installed navigation systems rose to an estimated 175,000 in the 2001 model year.

But motors who buy the systems and then canā€™t figure out how to use them, tend to give dealerships poor customer satisfaction ratings.

Although the number of consumers with previous exposure to navigation systems is increasing, most owners are selecting a vehicle equipped with a navigation system without any prior experience in using one. After leaving the dealership, many consumers are not sure how to operate their system, where to go to get their questions answered, how to upgrade their software or where to go for service if a problem occurs.

"In addition to better systems, consumers want better support," says Frank Forkin, executive director of automotive research at J.D. Power and Associates. "They want user-friendly manuals and easy-to-follow instructions. They expect support from a well-trained, knowledgeable sales and service staff. Unfortunately, these expectations are not being met. Of all attributes measured in the study, those associated with the dealership score among the lowest."

The study focuses on overall navigation system satisfaction based on performance and layout as well as system design and integration within the particular vehicle model.

The navigation system equipped on the Lexus GS Sedan, supplied by Denso, ranks highest in overall customer satisfaction, followed in a tie by the Alpine system supplied on the Acura RL (top ranked in 2000) and Denso's Lexus LX 470 navigation system.

"The satisfaction level realized by Denso on the Lexus GS system is the highest in the study's three-year history," says Forkin. "Nearly all of the Denso-supplied systems that have been converted from CD-ROM to DVD show substantial improvement from 2000."

As some suppliers convert their CD-based systems to DVD, navigation system users are reacting positively to the changes. Each of the top 10-ranked vehicles in the study is equipped with a DVD-based system, which typically offers greater geographic coverage, more detailed points of interest information and calculates routes faster.

More than one-half of new owners use their system at least once or twice a week. Finding residential/business addresses or routes to unfamiliar locations are the most common system uses. Interestingly, one in four navigation system owners surveyed has another directional support tool readily available -- a personal assistant service (e.g., OnStar, Lexus Link). These consumers can get routing assistance from a trained personal advisor.

Customers feel strongly about their navigation systems. More than one-half of current owners surveyed "definitely" would recommend a system like theirs to others. In addition to being navigation system advocates, two-thirds of current owners indicate future vehicle purchase decisions will be influenced by a navigation system option.

Looking to the future, U.S. consumers will begin to see multimedia interfaces that incorporate vehicle diagnostics and navigation, satellite and digital radio, Internet access and hands-free phone capabilities into one system. Driver distraction issues are being addressed by the further development of voice-activated controls. Navigation system users want access to detailed road construction and traffic information, and many manufacturers plan to incorporate real-time traffic updates in future systems.

The 2001 Navigation Usage and Satisfaction Study includes responses of more than 6,000 consumers who recently purchased or leased vehicles with a factory-installed navigation system.