Reliable car software can improve loyalty

November 01, 2016

Software problems that affect dashboard touchscreens could threaten customer loyalty as car buyers favour vehicles with the most user-friendly and reliable systems.

On many cars, analogue instruments and buttons are being replaced by touchscreens that perform a variety of functions.

They display graphics including virtual instruments, such as speedometer or rev counter readings, and satellite navigation or radio information. Screens can also be linked to drivers’ smartphones through in-car software including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Screens are so important they can dictate how the interior of a car is developed.

‘First we design the screen, then everything else,’ says Jaume Sala, the head of interior design at SEAT.

‘We used to design the interior of the car and at the end look for a place to put the screen. Now, everything revolves around it.’

More people at SEAT design screens than car exteriors due to the increasing impact of connectivity in the car industry, the firm says.

For a single 20cm screen, similar to a tablet, SEAT had to design 3,000 icons and pictograms.

However, as the screen is so integral to the operation of the car, software problems or screen faults have much more impact on drivers than a single faulty button used to.

In the US, Consumer Reports magazine has reported a growing range of problems including crashing electronic displays and systems that will not connect to drivers’ smartphones. It says dashboard technology is a significant friction point for car buyers.

Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ head of automotive testing, said: ‘As carmakers introduce complex electronic systems, they are having more problems.’

The Wall Street Journal reports that car companies are straining to keep pace with the frequency of smartphone software updates, which can lead to compatibility issues with in-car systems.

Software faults also require vehicles to be brought into the dealership for repair, unless vehicles are able to receive over-the-air updates, which is currently only available on relatively few models, such as the Tesla Model S.

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