Auto systems designed for the X-box generation but sold to the VHS generation are a disaster
This past Daylight Savings weekend I happened to have three cars in which to change the clock. In a 2007 Toyota there was a simple system. Next to the clock there were 2 buttons with an H and an M. Press one and the numbers start changing. Take finger off and they stop changing. Brilliant. This is VHS-era technology. It works. It need not be more complicated. I also had a 2010 Lexus to change. The exact same system in this much fancier car made changing the clock very quick and simple. I did it while also driving, creating a new Pandora channel and trimming my mustache. I’m kidding. My ‘stache was already perfect.
I also had a more modern car in my driveway. Like many new cars it replaced every button it could with a touch screen menu. Let's see, Home, Settings, Vehicle, Clock, Reset Clock, Hmm. how to change the numbers? Ok, use the steering wheel arrows to find the correct digit, then stop and hit the steering wheel OK button. This is progress?
Cars Are More Reliable, but Get Lower Scores Due to Infotainment Glitches
J.D. Power and Associates has noticed a disturbing trend. Although automotive systems like your engine and transmission are dramatically better than 10 or 20 years ago, they have stopped breaking. The hard stuff was all figured out and vehicle defects had started to decline. Then Ford and others dove deep into the dashboard to free us form the complexity and hassles of turning a knob to make the radio louder, and to turn another knob to make the car warmer. While they were at it, they added voice commands (nobody uses), and started calling things like navigation an "app." Navigation is not an App. It predates the term App. Navigation is navigation and since we all use it (even grandma) there should be a button to make it appear. We should not have to peck through three screens to make it work.
Advanced Systems Please Techno-philes
Some cars should be advanced. The Tesla Model S thrills its target customers with its completely button-free design. I wanted to love the system too. However, when I tested it I could not make the voice commands work. Nor could the Tesla employee in the car with me. Those issues are now well past Tesla, but it shows that even the best automakers sometimes need time to sort out positive advances in technology.
Chrysler Fires Quality Chief
The bold and the forward thinking have now been duly punished. Car brands that make rock-solid automobiles got low scores on the J.D. Power "reliability" rankings because their customers are frustrated that they can't turn on the AC without talking to HAL 9000. Some have come through it OK. Both Toyota and Lexus have modern systems, but kept the key functions simple. Then there are the exceptions like Chrysler, which has excellent infotainment, but somehow wound up forgetting how to make cars not break. Chrysler fired its quality chief a day after the recent rankings were released. The automakers that sell overly complicated dash systems should find the 23 year old that came up with the idea of talking to a car to change the wiper speed and fire her and her managers too.