Mossy FIAT Blog

REPRINT USA TODAY ARTICLE March 28, 2016:

As we become more reliant on our smartphones, car companies that do a good job integrating them into vehicles’ communication, audio and navigation systems have a huge advantage.

It shouldn’t be asking too much to get into a car, turn the radio on and tune to a station without reading the owner’s manual, but frequently it is. So automakers are trying to make their systems as simple as possible, drawing inspiration from the maker of toys for toddlers.

“We talk about the Fisher-Price approach: simple design, really big buttons and really large type,” said Gary Jablonski, product development manager for Ford’s Sync system. Sync drew raves when it debuted as the auto industry’s first voice recognition system in 2007. Ford’s quality ratings plummeted when it added a slow and balky touch screen for the system called My Ford Touch. An improved version dubbed Sync 3 began rolling out into Ford and Lincoln vehicles last year.

The reliability of hardware like engines, tires and suspensions has been improving for years, but poorly designed or malfunctioning systems for phone, music and navigation — “infotainment” in industry lingo — have driven reliability scores for the whole auto industry down. Not to mention reducing countless drivers to gibbering wrecks, pounding the dashboard and cursing when a smartphone connected to a smart car can’t execute a simple command like “Call home” or “Where’s the closest coffee shop?”

Problems using phones and other new controls in cars have been No. 1, 2 and 3 in recent J.D. Power studies.

“Controls need to make sense, and a lot of these don’t,” said Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. auto quality for J.D. Power, which conducts influential surveys of vehicle quality and dependability.
Even the worst systems often look good in a dealer’s showroom, but using spoken commands or a touch screen to make phone calls, play songs and podcasts or set a destination for navigation is entirely different at 65 miles per hour in heavy traffic.

Experts praise Fiat Chrysler’s Uconnnect system for its simplicity. The touch screen has big, clear icons for frequently used features like phone, audio and navigation. Pairing a phone — a leading cause of complaints for many brands — couldn’t be simpler. When you enter the vehicle with a new phone, touch the phone icon and a message on the screen asks, “Would you like to pair a phone?”

By contrast, many brands — particularly German ones — require multiple steps and do little or nothing to lead owners through the process. That’s an example of whatConsumer Reports’ Mutchler calls the “secret handshake,” when automakers add counter-intuitive steps and needless complexity.

“We spend a lot of time on this,” Fiat Chrysler Automobile's global head of connected services Tricia Hecker said. “Little things matter a lot when you’re trying to create an intuitive process.”

“People expect to be able to make calls, access their music and get directions in a way that minimizes distraction,” Mutchler said. “A lot of people don’t care about zero-to-60 times or steering feel, but they expect to be able to use their phone and listen to their music.

“A system that makes it hard to do that creates a bad, unpleasant impression of the whole vehicle.”

Categories: News

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