Home » VW CEO Admits Confusing Touchscreens Did ‘A Lot Of Damage’ To Reputation

VW CEO Admits Confusing Touchscreens Did ‘A Lot Of Damage’ To Reputation

Morning Dump Vw Interior
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There’s a great struggle in all product design between maintaining something that works and trying to improve or advance a user’s experience. This is especially true in automotive interior design, where any change that removes a user’s attention can create a safety risk. Volkswagen’s zeal in replacing buttons was particularly off-putting and now the company is trying to undo some of the damage.

If there’s one outcome of Volkswagen’s Dieselgate experience I hope persists, it’s the company’s sudden ability to reflect on its own mistakes in a timely and public manner, which was seemingly impossible for the company to do under CEO Martin Winterkorn. Today we’ve got the current CEO owning up to some shortcomings in interior design with a refreshing frankness.

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Speaking of refreshing frankness, former Nissan-Renault boss Carlos Ghosn is suing his old company, Hyundai’s CEO says his company might be the next domino to fall in the charging plug wars, and Maserati is apparently trying to horn in on our business model.

VW Used A ‘Room-Sized’ Spreadsheet To Fix Its Interior Problems

Old Vw Interior

I’m not going to use this space to jump on Volkswagen for its weird interior decisions because:

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  1. It’s not just Volkswagen! Most automakers are moving to touchscreens over buttons.
  2. The company is trying to fix its problems.

If anything, this post is in praise of new Volkswagen CEO Thomas Schäfer for his refreshing honesty. First, though, let’s review the problem.

Automakers are moving to touchscreens both because they are familiar interfaces for most of our daily lives now, and because they’re cheaper and easier than installing a lot of buttons/switches/nobs. With the introduction of the ID-line of vehicles, VW quickly embraced the Tesla-inspired screen design and jettisoned a lot of useful buttons and switches. As we discussed when we reviewed the VW ID.Buzz, too many operations were moved to the touchscreen or unlit buttons, resulting in some extreme annoyances.

Autocar did a great interview with Schäfer during the launch of the new Tiguan and got him to admit to a lot of mistakes, which he says the new Tiguan will partially remedy:

Asked if the unconventional interior arrangements introduced under his predecessor Herbert Diess had threatened Volkswagen’s standing among loyal customers, Schäfer said they “definitely did a lot of damage”.

He added: “We had frustrated customers who shouldn’t be frustrated. So we’ve spent a lot of time now – working through really systematically – on what all the functions are that a customer usually touches when using a vehicle.

[…]

“We worked through this with a massive team. It took us quite a bit of time. It was an Excel spreadsheet as big as a room, but you have to do that.”

I think the big question here is: Why didn’t you do this the first time? This seems like an example of the design team getting too far ahead of the user. He goes further and, again, credit to Autocar for getting this all down:

“Once you have it, don’t touch it again. Bloody leave it. Don’t confuse our customers every time a new model comes out and something is completely different. Optimise it. Bring into the future. But don’t change buttons from here to there, to there and here. At Volkswagen, we were always great for sitting in the car and you know where everything is immediately, intuitively.

Hell yeah. My friend had an Mk4 Golf and I loved the way all the backlit red and blurple buttons looked. It was ahead of its time and I’m hopeful VW is working its way back to that.

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Former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn Sues Nissan For More Than $1 Billion

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I was in Montreal this weekend and was trying to explain to my daughter that we were under a slightly different set of rules because Canada is a different country. She definitely noticed that most people were speaking French.

When former Nissan-Renault CEO/Chairman Carlos Ghosn escaped Japan in a box, he knew he wanted to end up in Lebanon for numerous reasons, but the biggest reason was that there was little chance he’d get sent back to Japan in cuffs. In Lebanon, Ghosn is one of the most famous business leaders of all time.

Unsurprisingly, Ghosn is suing Nissan and a number of individuals in the company over his sudden arrest and the alleged defamation that follow. Reuters has seen the lawsuit and filed this report with some of the details, although it’s fairly light:

The May 18 lawsuit accuses Nissan along with two other companies and 12 named individuals of crimes including defamation, slander and libel, and fabricating material evidence.

I’m no expert in the Lebanese legal system, but I’m curious what kind of standing Ghosn has to sue Japanese citizens over something that seems to have happened almost entirely in Japan. At the same time, Ghosn is a fugitive who cannot travel outside of Lebanon, maybe ever.

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Who is wrong and who is right here is a matter of perspective, but it seems like it’ll get way nastier before it gets resolved.

Hyundai To Join Tesla’s NACS Charging Standard?

Ioniq 6 Charging

Hyundai Motor Company’s CEO, Jaehoon Chang, is the latest to considering joining GM and Ford by adopting the Tesla-created NACS charging standard. The safe bet seemed to be Stellantis as the third major company to fall, but Chang has opened the door. (Actually, while writing this it turns out it’s Rivian, more on that soon).

From another Reuters report, here’s what Chang told analysts at the automaker’s investor day:

Jaehoon Chang, who is also Hyundai’s president, said the company would consider joining the alliance of automakers shifting to Tesla’s standard, but that it would have to determine that was in the interest of its customers.

One issue, he said, is that Tesla’s current network of Superchargers does not allow for the faster charging Hyundai’s electric vehicles can achieve on other chargers.

“That’s what we will look into from the customer’s perspective,” Chang told analysts at the automaker’s investor day.

This is technically true. V3 Tesla Superchargers offer a charging rate that maxes out at 250 kW, compared to 350 kW for the fastest CCS chargers. However, in my experience it’s rare to see anything above 200 kW at any charger in this country. For various complex reasons I’m not going to get into at the moment, batteries don’t charge equally over time and stations can’t always deliver maximum charge to each charger.

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What matters most about charging, right now, is that a station has available chargers and all work when you arrive. In that way, Tesla us crushing it with Superchargers.

Maserati Is Going To Membership!

Maserati Tridente

For various reasons, we’re a big fan of the membership model here at The Autopian. It’s therefore exciting to see Maserati doing the same. I’m just going to quote liberally from the company’s press release:

Maserati is thrilled to introduce Tridente, the brand’s first-ever membership program that will provide its fans, clients and multi-garage owners access to exclusive editorial contents, curated travelogues, previews of new products and collections as well as bespoke experiences inspired by that unique modern Italian luxury that defines the Trident’s soul.

As Maserati’s first integrated loyalty initiative, Tridente has encapsulated its five fundamental pillars – editorial storytelling, Maserati exclusives, cultural encounters, curated driving experiences and international events – in the Tridente app, combining the rich heritage of Maserati with the ease of modern technology, where the only requirement to enter the club is being a passionate lover of the Italian brand.

Maserati Tridente offers three membership tiers covering different levels of brand loyalty: a Blu tier for all Trident fans and car enthusiasts, a Platinum tier for Maserati clients including owners of GranTurismo, MC20 or MC20 Cielo spyder while Diamond is the most exclusive tier, only accessible to owners of the ultra-limited super sports car Project24 or collectors of the high-performance single-seater GT2 car.

It’s no Vinyl/Velour/Rich Corinthian Leather, but it’s pretty good. I also didn’t realize that we shared so many fundamental pillars with Maserati. Editorial Storytelling!

The Big Question?

What was the peak of interior car design from a usability standpoint? I’d say my E39 is pretty much perfect circa 2003.

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Photos: Nissan, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Maserati

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GertVAG
GertVAG
11 months ago

The thing I loved in my VW’s over the years, from my Passat B3 over my B5’s to my VW Caddy was the same lay-out of buttons, instinctively found and so easy to use. The headlights, the climate controls, it all remained in the same place, only modernized.

Imagine my dismay when I rented a 2022 VW T-Cross in Norway. Luckily the headlights remained the same but the rest was lost in a digital wasteland… Never again I hope.

Ron888
Ron888
11 months ago

Even though VW screwed up ,i’ll forgive them.I’m just grateful someone is heading in the right direction with their screens.

A billion dollar lawsuit?? That’s just taking the piss.Congrats of alienating 99% of the world’s population Ghosn.

Ana Osato
Ana Osato
11 months ago
Reply to  Ron888

The right direction for screens is towards the bin.
Buttons ftw.

Long_Time_Reader_First_Time_Poster
Long_Time_Reader_First_Time_Poster
11 months ago

My 19 VW Golf Alltrack’s setup is pretty decent. The touchscreen is laggy, especially if you’re trying to LOOK at/for something on maps instead of just letting Google tell you where you should go. Aside from that, I rarely mess with the touchscreen. The functions I care most about are all buttons or knobs. That and finding one in 6MT that is not black(!) and does not have a black interior(!!) made me give it a shot and it’s done quite well so far. I have no interest in any of the crossovers with pizazz and crazy UI tricks, so hopefully the can return to the form of this thing.

Strangek
Strangek
11 months ago

When were backup cameras mandated? Seems like it was easier to get interior controls correct before then, before the temptation of the screen! Early 2000s seems good, companies started getting past the cheap 90s crap that looked cool when new but was quickly broken/filthy. 80s luxobarges have the best/worst interior controls.

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
11 months ago

Japan should respond to Ghosn with a polite, “Sure, we can setle your suit for, say 1 million dollars, payable only in person, in Japan.”

Jb996
Jb996
11 months ago

My proposal seems to be one of the newest for an ideal interface. My 2014 Mazda 3. It is a very, very base model, which means no infotainment system, only a radio, and therefore physical knobs and buttons for everything. They’re laid out well, there are buttons on the steering wheel for the radio, and a couple for the trip info (mpg, etc.), but they are out of the way. I kind of wish it didn’t have the phone/bluetooth buttons on the wheel, but that’s a nitpick.
Overall, it’s pretty modern, but entirely physical.

P Hans
P Hans
11 months ago

The exodus from physical buttons to screens is driven by fashion and profits. In reality touch screens sucks for everything except a very choice functions – if implemented well: to display information. Touch screens are dangerous too.

While Im at it, physical buttons should be implemented for anything you use daily, weekly and monthly, the rest can be hidden in the screen: things like settings.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
11 months ago

New to the Maserati experience: 404 Not Found

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
11 months ago

I expect it will 500 constantly

RootWyrm
RootWyrm
11 months ago

What was the peak of interior car design from a usability standpoint? I’d say my E39 is pretty much perfect circa 2003.

From a usability standpoint? 2001-2004 Buicks. Especially with dual-zone climate controls.

Why? First of all: everything, and I do mean everything, is in easy reach. On all of them. Even the glovebox handle was moved over on the LeSabre and Park Avenue so the driver could reach it without unbuckling.
Nothing is labeled in any way that could possibly be confused for anything else. Fog lights are labeled fog. Heated seats are labeled with clear iconography and text; an actual seat with 3 ‘heat waves’ coming out of it.
Buttons are reasonably sized and extremely tactile. You can’t hit a button and not know you hit that button, and you can’t accidentally push most buttons. You can’t brush an obnoxious touchscreen and accidentally turn off your heated seat, you can’t bump a rotary knob and turn the heat up to 90, you can’t lean on the power window switch and not know you’re doing it. Everything must be deliberately and knowingly interacted with.
And then there’s the IPC and indicators. Everything is readable – always, from any position or angle. Climate control temperature, radio station, information center (very bright VFDs,) all of them laugh off sun glare, night time, you can always read them.
And most importantly, everything was exactly where you expected it and behaved exactly how you expected it to. There was nothing new to learn.

Somebody at GM actually did their job on these interiors, something that regrettably carried over to nothing else, and never did again.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
11 months ago
Reply to  RootWyrm

That’s that classic GM strategy, baby! Unintentionally do something brilliant then completely abandon it.

FloridaMatt
FloridaMatt
11 months ago

I suspect the switch to Tesla’s NACS is a game changer for electric holdouts like me. I’m all for going electric, but don’t like Teslas, and have a 700-mile drive to visit family several times a year. No way in hell I’d want to rely on the current state of non-supercharger reliability. Plan for a plug-in hybrid soon is now a plan for a suitable 2025 BEV.

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
11 months ago
Reply to  FloridaMatt

I wonder if the sudden influx of potential users is going to overwhelm the superchargers in more popular locations. I guess having to sit and wait an hour to plug in is better than finding a charging station that doesn’t work, but its still far from optimal.

Matt H
Matt H
11 months ago

Peak interior car design from a functionality standpoint? Second gen Acura Legend. This can probably be extended to most mid-90s to early 2000s Honda products, but the Legend was just about perfect.

Droid
Droid
11 months ago

my immediate thought when reading vw’s mea culpa about user interface churn was airbus vs boeing.
NOT the differences between the 2 manufacturers’ UIs (sidestick vs yoke, ECAM vs EICAS, etc) but rather the CONSISTENCY of the UI between different airframes/models:
my understanding is that instrument and control layout of airbus is consistent from A320, A380, etc., while it varies between boeing’s 737, 777, etc.
easier pilot certification between airbus models/airframes is a tangible cost advantage to airlines.
my sense is that automotive UI consistency is primarily a SAFETY concern.
N.B. i am not an aviator, so sorry in advance if i’m wrong.

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