By on June 25, 2012

Here’s a breath of fresh air; Volvo CEO Stefan Jacoby declared that his cars, laden with safety systems and other gadgets, are too complex for most of Volvo’s customers.

Jacoby cited a study, which claimed that 75 percent of Volvo customers didn’t know the full potential of their cars. Citing Apple as an example, Jacoby said

“Our cars are too complicated for the consumer. Our intention is to have an intuitive car that lets the driver actually feel like he’s in command,”

My parents have an XC60, and while they’re pretty tech savvy, they still have trouble deciphering the various three-letter safety systems in their car, and I don’t think they’ve ever gone deep into the muti-layered menus since taking delivery of the car. Taking a pro-simplicity position is something that most of us can identify with.Volvo will have a unique challenge on its hands, since so much of its identity is wrapped up in being on the leading edge of safety and design. Making their cars easier to use while progressing technologically is a task that many have failed at – witness the lack of a legitimate iPod competitor if you need further proof.

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38 Comments on “Volvo CEO: “Our Cars Are Too Complicated”...”

  • avatar

    Simplicity trumps completeness. Apple has done pretty well doing this.

    • 0 avatar

      Arguably Windows phones are simpler to use than iPhones. Witness people scrolling through screens and screens of icons vs the super-simplified Windows phone home screen.

      In this case Microsoft has done a re-think of the paradigm, Apple has not. Hasn’t brought them significant success in the marketplace, though, at least not yet.

      • 0 avatar

        YOu may be right, I have not used a Windows phone. My paradigm might be stuck in 2009, when I was blown away by how easy it was to send a picture I’d taken on my phone. The buttom was right in front of me. Compared to my Windows Mobile 6.1 phone, or even my XP computer, I was kinda shocked.

        Looking forward to Windows mobile 8.

        I checked out the Cadillac CUE system last week. Looks pretty good. Works pretty well. Like a tablet embedded in the dash. The salesman told me his Android phone was never easier to pair with a car.

    • 0 avatar

      Are you kidding me? Apple is not simple. I realized this years ago when I couldn’t simply drag & drop MP3 files on my iPod w/out using iTunes. Vehiles are similarly complicated with proprietary crap.

  • avatar

    Just try to adjust the radio station setting in a new Focus rental car without the owner’s manual. Wish I would have had a hammer on that day. The radio would have been ground zero.

    • 0 avatar

      Remember VCRs? A lot of folks couldn’t figure out how to program them either. Most computers and such are still the same. I think we all only use them to a fraction of their potential.

  • avatar

    Derek, you should appreciate the simplicity of the data-logger control knob on your v70. Maybe they will go back to that and the dash will turn into a moog synthesizer look-alike.

  • avatar

    There was another article on here that i can not locate that talked about Ford reworking their dash in the F150 to be usable with workgloves.

    Having a good layout with usable, tactile controls that are intuitive is far better than relying on touchscreens in a vehicle. Having to use a joystick to navigate a computer screen is even worse, IMO. Honda/Acura always did a good job of offering buttons & knobs as well as the touchscreen interface, though you end up with a myriad of buttons all around the console.

  • avatar

    No shit. Have they attempted to, I don’t know, repair the wipers on a 240 recently? That was five hours of hell. I love this car and all, but I dread the moment something else breaks.

    Especially not looking forward to having to do anything to the heater core.

    • 0 avatar

      My 240’s blower motor went. I responded by buying a different car for the winter rather than suffering through another year of freezing my sack off below 40 MPH. Just easier that way…

    • 0 avatar

      I was once considering a 240, but after seeing the many parts of the engine (2 air filters, etc) I just wanted to hunt down something that was a bit simpler.

      Yea they’ll last a while, but I’m a DIY type and if I can’t fix anything then its not worth buying to begin with.

  • avatar

    “Our cars are too complicated”

    This, spoken by the company that has lately developed a pedestrian airbag.

    Actually, his next statement about producing intuitive cars does NOT mean decontenting, but may actually involve adding complexity under the surface so the customer experience is simpler.

    Driver interfaces today seem to be at the same evolutionary point as emission & engine controls were in 1975 – highly complex.

  • avatar

    It’s no easy task to simplify the user interface on modern cars as they are today. There is an adjustment switch for everything: windows, lights, mirrors, radio, wipers, climate control, on and on. I love that my car can adjust most of those things automatically based on conditions. I look forward to the next revolutionary step in car design that greatly simplifies the user experience – and I don’t mean simply adding touch screens or an iPad into the dash.

  • avatar

    Have you ever disassembled an Apple computer? Beneath the glossy, well-thought out exterior is an impenetrable rat’s nest of wires, soldering, glue, different size screws, etc. This is why hardware geeks hate Apple, they can’t mod them. The average consumer doesn’t care, they just want a thing that works. Auto manufacturers would be well advised, don’t worry if it is too complex beneath the surface. Just make the thing work.

    • 0 avatar

      I call shenanigans on that remark. I have worked with Mac desktops at home and in a corporate environment for 16 years. They are very easy to work on (to replace hard drives, memory, etc.). Also, the UNIX operating system beneath OS X is very easy to mod if you want to play around “under the hood”.

      I know that Mac hardware is more expensive but it is untrue that they are hard to work on. They are certainly not a rat’s nest of wires.

      • 0 avatar

        There’s a PowerMac 8600/G3 in the garage that I refuse to part with. It is one of the nicest computers ever built. That thing is a marvel!

        Check it out if you think macs are hard to work on. Even the old Performas had motherboards and drives on neat little drawers for servicing. They’ve only gotten easier– everything’s a module, you just plug in a single connector.

      • 0 avatar

        My experience with Mac desktop ownership is limited a Macintosh from a yard sale, many years ago. But I have worked on several Macbooks since then, and they are an absolute bear to fix, especially compared to Thinkpads. I loved working on Thinkpads because parts were so easy to swap out, and IBM tech support was actually helpful in finding replacement hardware, sometimes sending it free even years out of warranty. Macbooks are seemingly glued together in such a way that it is nearly impossible to repair for the amateur geek. I spilled coffee on a Macbook once, every store I took it to just said “buy a new one, the board is probably fried.” With great effort I was able to remove the keyboard, I lost count after 12 screws, nearly cracked the case in half (for the record, it still works!). I vaguely remember reading a while back about how Steve Jobs kept secrets about new products because each development team worked separately from each other while developing new products like the Macbook. So one team might know they are developing a new memory board, but not know what the screen would look like. The end result was that even the people inside the company designing the products were surprised at the result. The exterior would be beautiful and would be designed for ease of use, but underneath, anyone who ventured to teardown a Macbook would find parts jammed together haphazardly, as if thrown together at the last second.

        My point is that Apple products are nicely designed on the exterior and easy to use for most consumers, which is probably what auto manufacturers should copy. Enthusiasts like us are such a small segment they might as well build “sealed” cars. Once it breaks, just throw it away and get another, since repairing it would be too costly/time-consuming. If you need any further proof that this is a good idea, just know that the irony is not lost on me that I type this on a Macbook.

  • avatar

    Some things do get better with new technologies. My 1966 Volvo 122S bas basically reliable, but the exhaust system rotted out in less than 2 years, as did the replacement. Gave me an excuse to put on a chrome-tipped Abarth snorter. Which also rusted. My 2004 S60R still has the original 8+ year-old stainless system.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Yeah, I’ve noticed this, too. Some of this is feature bloat (e.g. lane departure warning, blind spot warning, 4 levels of transmission/throttle/suspension settings) and some of it is the result of the explosion in complexity of the car audio system now being integrated with a mobile phone and a portable music storage device, like an IPod and the need to have a display for a navigation system.

    And some of it may be because the manufacturers believe that their target market thinks its cool to have a car interior that looks like the cockpit of a commercial jet.

    • 0 avatar

      The funny thing is, none of the automakers are very good at electronic interfaces anyway. In addition, the electronics are instantly dated.

      A $400 Pioneer AVIC in-dash system is a great example of some 1/3 the price and 3 times as capable as the average OEM nav stereo. Scion got it right when they designed around the simple DIN sizing, which means any owner can ditch the crap OEN unit and put in something that will be truly useful for the car’s lifespan.

      As-is, nearly all new new cars arrive with something already out of date. I’d love an iPad-sized hole in the dash, into which I can plug the latest technology, rather than buy a whole new car with a marginally more updated unit.

      An in-dash iPad would be far simpler, anyway, than anything from Acura.

    • 0 avatar

      Funny you say that, because one of the things that drew me to my 850 was how all the switches made me feel like I was in the space shuttle!

      The challenge today seems to be how to add in all the new whiz-bang stuff but still have the crucial stuff easy to access.

  • avatar

    It’s all about the interface. Volvo needs to be the highest tech to survive, but those techs need to work without driver interaction and be simply turned off if necessary. I just ordered a 70 so I will figure this all out soon.

    As interfaces go, I want two. Give me the simpleton embedded menus which often work fine. Also give me an index style list I can go to that let’s me go direct to anything without figuring out where an idiot would likely want it.

  • avatar

    “Stefan Jacoby declared that his cars, laden with … gadgets, are too complex for most … customers.”

    No ****, Sherlock.

    No car should have muti-layered menus for anything you expect a customer to do. If nothing else, use the simple test:
    If it needs a menu when driving, it’s too complex–get rid of it;
    if it needs a nested menu, it’s too complex–get rid of it.

  • avatar

    He does have a conundrum.

    80% of users want a “Lego Duplo” version of the interface- essentially a refrigerator-like automotive appliance. Turn on and go. If there was some way for those users not to even have to drive (google driverless cars) they would choose that option.

    20% of users want the “Lego Technic/Expert Level/Mindstorm robot programing” version (including repair manuals with lists for the torque settings for every bolt on the vehicle) of the interface. If there was some way for these users to be able to tune (hack?)the car while driving (say real time computer controlled suspensions) they would chose this option.

    That is the problem…

  • avatar

    My concern is how will we maintain these vehicles 5 – 20 years down the road? Most of this feature creep is due to digital hardware and software. The rate of change in these technologies is exponential. How are you going to fix something that is composed of parts (chips, etc.) that are no longer made? Even the software disappears. Know any Zilog Z80 programers? I only know one (me) and he’ll be dead in 10 years.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    This weekend I observed an elderly woman driver trying to shift her new 5 series into reverse using the paddle shifters, I am not joking!

  • avatar

    Whenever I end up using a Smartphone I always end up yelling “Buttons! Where are my buttons?!”.

    The same goes for cars, whats wrong with old fashion levers, switches, knobs, and buttons? They’ll out last any of these fancy touch-screens.

  • avatar

    Have to agree with RYOKU75. I have a compromise with the newer buttons vs knobs on some level, but I still state that if I must take my eyes off the road for a substantial amount of time to perform any of the basic stuff, that’s a problem.

    We recently bought a Mazda5 Sport. It’s amazing that, save for the automatic climate control, just how little “techno” stuff is on the car. It has a simple “A” and “B” trip odometer (trip computer available), no USB (has an AUX jack though), no bluetooth (again, available), NOTHING. Anyway, it’s a joy to drive and the controls that are there are incredibly easy to use. Knobs, and on the steering wheel easy to master toggles and buttons. Good ergos are a requirement.

  • avatar

    Maybe it’s a problem for baby boomers and those who had to evolve into the digital age. But having menus and sub-menus and a wide variety of electronic settings is no problem for the current generation. A 6 year-old kid doesn’t need a learning curve anymore. Just hand them any device and sit back and watch in amazement. It’s part of their DNA now.

    Personally I’d rather have a car that gives me a wide variety of menus and allows me set up the car the way I like it. I don’t want something that makes me do only what it wants to do. And that’s the way Apple is now becoming. It may be simpler, but it’s reduce my choices in working the software the way I want it to work. Give me flexibility over simplicity. Give me Linux over the Mac OS and Windows. And give me a car that I can dig deep into the electronics and make the changes that suit me.

  • avatar

    Just look at your remote. Be it for TV or even air conditioner, chances are they have lots and lots of buttons, mostly for obscure functions you’ll never use.

  • avatar

    “witness the lack of a legitimate iPod competitor if you need further proof.”

    Uhh last I checked Android is leading overall sales by far compared to the iPhone. I don’t mind some rhetoric here and there, but please check your numbers as far as sales.

    Is the market fragmented? Sure then again so is the windows PC market. Yet no one would claim that Windows isn’t competitive even if many average people disagree.

    As an individual phone the iPhone sells more, but thats really because of lack of choice, not from anything else. Android has perhaps too many platforms, but to dismiss it as not competitive is pretty misleading.

    • 0 avatar

      Ok time for me to eat some humble pie. I think I read too many tech blogs, i didn’t read iPod, I read iPHONE. Which in my defense I bet a number of people reading this read also but that’s no excuse. My bad, my mistake.

      After rereading this and it’s now too late for me to delete my post. I must with all sincerity eat my words.

      Yes the iPOD has no legitimate competition, unless you want to talk smartphones, but that’s a different argument.

      So my apologies and I’m going to work on reading details a bit more.

      • 0 avatar

        I know Apple fans will hate me, but Ipods are too expensive compared to other mp3 players. Besides they don’t work at all with Linux, and that Itunes software is a propitary nightmare.

  • avatar
    Dr. Claw

    This might be true of their safety systems…

    but Volvo’s infotainment system is one of the few on the market that offers more buttons than touch screen fumbling nonsense. I wish my own had those features.

  • avatar

    Cars in the future will be complicated, you can’t really avoid that. More and more safety features like radar and depth perception cameras so the car will know if you are about to take a curve too fast and will urge you to slow down before you even take the turn.
    Adaptive cruise control even in stop and go conditions, perpendicular as well as parallel self parking.
    Complex trip meters so people can see the history of the car’s MPG.

    Feature-rich infortainment and wifi hotspot, steering wheel heart rate sensors and sensors in the seats to analyze the driver’s mood to see if they are able to multitask or not.

    Not seen by the driver:
    Complex sensors in the seats so the car knows how occupants are sitting (or if their legs are on the dash) so it will know which air bags to deploy and how strongly to deploy them.

    Complexity might not all be seen by the driver but car’s are becoming more complex every year = higher maintenance costs when something goes wrong and in the end, more menus and more buttons on the dash.

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