How to gather contextual automotive consumer insights in China

China's automotive industry is rapidly evolving, pushing boundaries, and leading the world in in-car connectivity and next-generation user experiences. Understanding how automotive consumers in China are using the features and functionalities inside the world's most innovative EVs, their likes, dislikes, and unmet needs can provide powerful insights into how to design automotive experiences of the future.

What is a diary study methodology?

A diary study is a research methodology that provides participants with a series of questions or tasks to complete over a period of time, often taking place in hard-to-reach or private domains in the participant's life, such as the home, shopping, work, or vehicle. It enables researchers to understand how a product or service is truly used over time.

The participants capture responses to the questions or tasks in a medium that is similar to logging entries into a diary. Typically, this method requires collecting written responses and some supporting/corroborating photos. However, more modern diary study tools in the form of participant mobile apps, and video and photo submissions provide much richer levels of data.

A diary study methodology captures automotive consumers in contextual moments

It’s typically challenging to research and capture high-quality qualitative and comprehensive contextual moments through drive-along methods or in-depth follow-up interviews with automotive users due to a number of reasons:

  • The car is a personal space; having observers in the car can make the experience feel staged and less natural.
  • Users are on the move and naturally may conduct other activities throughout their driving journey.
  • Driving journeys in China can often be very long, and the interesting moments happen far and few between over a long period of time.
  • There are often countless driving scenarios that may happen over many days or weeks that need to be covered in a study.
  • Often there are family scenarios with children, grandparents, etc., that would not be suitable to fit observers in the car.

A diary study methodology allows automotive participants and their passengers to capture moments when they arise, documenting experiences and different scenarios that may be of interest over a period of many days or weeks. This allows for capturing more contextual experiences to target specific research questions. These may include scenarios such as:


  • Test the accuracy of direction and general usability of the navigation guidance.
  • Evaluate voice-guided navigation and responsiveness and accuracy of voice detection.
  • Assess the accuracy of real-time traffic updates and alternative route suggestions.
  • Feedback on navigation displays on HUD (heads-up display) and instrument cluster.
  • Test ease-of-use of searching for locations and search results to routing.


  • Testing the user interface and usability of the infotainment system.
  • Pairing smartphone devices via Bluetooth to play media.
  • Setting up and switching between driver profiles.
  • Assessing the native media services such as radio, podcasts, and music.
  • Testing of features, including voice commands and 3rd-party app connectivity.

Rear seat entertainment

  • Evaluate the rear seat entertainment system, including touchscreens, remotes, and voice and gesture controls.
  • Assess the rear seat connectivity, such as USB and HDM inputs and screen mirroring.
  • Collect Feedback on the ergonomics of rear seat entertainment.
  • Capture what objects/devices passengers bring with them to keep them entertained.

Seat comfort

  • Assess the comfort and adjustability of the seats, including lumbar support, seat height, and reclining options.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of seat heating, ventilation, and massage functions.
  • Test the quality and durability of seat materials, such as fabric, leather, or synthetic upholstery.
  • Assess the ease of access and egress to the seats, particularly for passengers with mobility challenges.
  • Provide feedback on the overall ergonomics and support provided by the seats during short and long drives.

Family trips

  • Evaluate the vehicle's ability to accommodate child seats, including the ease of installation and compatibility with different seat types.
  • Test the effectiveness of features designed for family needs, such as rear-facing camera monitoring, rear door child locks, or integrated sunshades.
  • Assess the availability and accessibility of storage options for family essentials, such as strollers, diaper bags, or groceries.
  • Evaluate the ease of cleaning and maintaining the vehicle's interior, considering the potential for spills, stains, and messes.
  • Provide feedback on family passengers' overall comfort and convenience, considering legroom, climate control, and noise levels.

Road trips / outdoor activities

  • Evaluate the vehicle's ability to carry outdoor equipment such as bicycles, skis, camping gear, etc.
  • Test the towing capabilities of the vehicle.
  • Observe the habits of drivers and passengers over driving long distances.
  • Provide feedback on the vehicle's overall handling, ride comfort, and stability during different road and weather conditions.

Electric vehicles (EVs)

  • Evaluate the battery range and performance, including driving range, charging time, and energy efficiency.
  • Test the effectiveness and user-friendliness of the charging ports, cables, and adapters.
  • Assess the availability and accessibility of charging stations and home charging options.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of charging management systems, such as smartphone apps or in-vehicle interfaces.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of range prediction and navigation systems in helping drivers plan their charging stops.

Car owners and their passengers capture videos and photos to answer questions and complete tasks

Using a mobile app diary study tool, participants can access their project and see their tasks clearly organized for them to complete. The tasks are created as either video or photo tasks, structured to ask the participants to answer a single question or to capture a specific moment or scenario. Using video as the primary medium to capture the in-car moments provides rich un-moderated qualitative insights that allow you to see the details of the interior or exterior parts of the vehicle in focus, as well as visual queues from any facial expressions or tones of voice from the participants.

Ensure the right automotive participants are recruited for your study

Who the participants are in your auto research can make or break the project. For example, the key targets could be either owning a vehicle that the study focuses on or having demographic attributes such as a young family with children looking to purchase a new car within a specific price range. If participants included in the study only loosely fit the criteria or do not fit it at all, the data would end up being inaccurate and irrelevant. It is essential to define very clear recruitment criteria and ensure the participants meet them through detailed screening techniques.

When recruiting participants for automotive user research, criteria to consider may include (but are not restricted to) items such as the participant's:

  • Age/gender/location.
  • Ownership of a specific make, model, and year of release (Li Auto L9 2022, Zeekr 001 2021, e.g.)
  • Family structure, such as married couples with young children.
  • Uses of the car outside of general transportation, such as for outdoor activities like camping.
  • Driving habits/behavior, i.e., the participant often drives long-distance road trips of more than 3 hours at a time.
  • Vehicle-specific service needs, such as the participant owning an EV and using public charging stations regularly.
  • Purchase intent, i.e., the participant Is looking to purchase a new car in the next 12 months with a value above 500,000 CNY.

Recruiting the right participants for your automotive project can be a difficult process. Our team at Recap can help find hard-to-reach car owners for your project. We have an extensive network of automotive research participants in China, particularly focused on EVs, SUVs, connected vehicles, and luxury car owners. Contact us today to discuss your recruitment requirements.

Recap is a diary study tool in China that allows you to target & recruit Chinese consumers to conduct emote research. Participants use the Recap mobile app to respond to their tasks and research questions using video and photo responses. Clients observe the submissions in the web dashboard to analyze the results.
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