Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Why Tech Cars Flunked J.D. Power Quality Study

Designing auto cockpit ergonomics ...

"In the 2005 J.D. Power & Associates Initial Quality Study, the Toyota Prius was the top-ranked compact car. This year, though, the 50-mpg gas/electric hybrid disappeared from the top three, despite the fact that a sibling car, the Toyota Corolla, is now the number one compact.

Why the drop? Complex hybrid controls, a non-standard transmission lever, and overbearing displays hurt the Prius's standings.

In general, high-tech cars fared poorly in this year's study, which measures initial defects in new cars and this year also addressed perceived problems with ergonomic design features. Manu­facturers opened the technology floodgates but forgot to make the cars easy to use. It's the "flashing 12:00" syndrome all over again: VCRs can't be programmed, the buttons on digital cameras are too small to manipulate, and the reset button doesn't cancel renegade print jobs. And car-tech features are too hard to comprehend.

Three of the five brands that use cockpit controllers dropped at least ten levels in the 2006 study. BMW, with iDrive, fell from number 3 to number 27, despite being third-best in the initial-defects part of the survey. Audi, with MMI—the best cockpit controller, in my opinion—fell from number 8 to number 18. Mercedes-Benz, with its perplexing Command system, dropped from 5th place to 25th.

Germany claims its leading-edge technology gives it a leg up on the performance-pretenders from Japan. Now Porsche is helping to back up that claim: It was second only to Lexus with fewest new-car defects and first in design technology.

Joe Ivers, executive director of quality and customer satisfaction research for J.D. Power, offered me this explanation. "[Audi, BMW, and Mercedes] share a common degree of complexity in the user interface designed into their vehicles. This might suggest to some that such a result is inevitable, given the high-tech features and inherent complexity of these cars. [But] Porsche, which ranks first in initial quality overall and also in design quality, has all of the complexity but almost none of the problems. Porsche has also taken a much simpler approach to integrating all this technology."    (Continued via PC Magazine)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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