It’s not uncommon for people in the auto business to fall in love with their “baby” when working on a planning-development project.

The trouble is their infatuation may blind them from realizing they are unwisely pursuing something.

So says Doug Betts. He knows. He worked for years in the auto industry and admits to succumbing to that “my-baby” syndrome on occasion. He recently joined J.D. Power as senior vice president-global automotive operations.

In a way, he’s crossed over to the other side. As a consumer research and survey company, J.D. Power provides information as “a neutral third party, something the automakers can’t do themselves,” he tells WardsAuto.  

“It’s a role we play,” he says. “Our approach is, ‘It’s not our baby.’ Our data is our baby. Clients say, ‘We’re going to spend billions of dollars going in a direction, and we want to make sure we are going in the right direction.”

Betts also speaks of cases when automaker staffers hesitate to speak up and say something negative about an aspect of an internal project. “People are reluctant to say things that could affect their careers. That’s another reason research from a third party is useful.”      

As an industry veteran, Betts served as an engineer for Chrysler and its successor, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. At one point, he headed quality control. Self-deprecatingly he says, “People who work in quality have the experience, but to others (in the company) they are known as (jerks).”

J.D. Power consumer research studies and surveys range from owners’ opinions about infotainment systems on their vehicles (“People like knobs better than touchscreens,” Betts says) to vehicle-quality rankings to how customers rate the buying experience.

Feedback on such topics is intended to help automakers understand the citizenry better, he says, citing an example. “What an engineer thinks is easy – say a particular way of pairing a phone to Bluetooth – is not necessarily easy to the average person. Yet, the engineers are all telling the CEO, ‘This is really easy.’”

It’s sometimes tricky polling people on a product that doesn’t exist, but J.D. Power has asked people if they would place their trust in self-driving cars.

“Most say, ‘no,’” Betts says. Older people say, ‘Heck no.’ But even younger generations are apprehensive. They know from their smartphones that software is not perfect.”

Betts says to develop a connected car for mass production will require collaboration from tech companies and automakers, with each bringing their respective strength to the table.

“They both see shortcomings in the other, but both need each other to make a connected car,” he says. “Tech companies are better at software, automakers are skilled in safety, and there are 10,000 things in a car that need to be protected.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com