Sometimes a Car is Just Plain Overengineered

Stop Start Off IndicatorWe had the pleasure of working with an updated Volvo recently, and of course we filmed the back up entry and start process. When finished, the car’s owner asked about permanently shutting down the Start/Stop system, and without comment on the merits of the request, accomplishing the feat turned out to be simply impossible.

As far as the owner is concerned the car is overengineered, and within the limited experience with the new model Volvos, we have to agree.

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Volvo KeyLets start with the key fob. First, the mechanical key is retrieved from the old models with a simply slide of a button. The new one, however, needs the cover pushed down and then pulled up and the key is found inside.

Volvo Key Style 2The difficulty is that the owner’s manual calls for pushing the cover up and pulling it away! Up refers to the direction the Volvo logo faces, but in actual practice the key is being held with the key ring up to make the process work.

Volvo Key Blade 2And what was so wrong with the original??

Now with practice, it got easier. But who practices this? And should it take practice to get the mechanical key in a pinch?

There is a lesson here for users — read and observe the instructions carefully, with any car but particularly with one made someplace other than your home country.

But beyond difficult instructions, none of this was necessary. The original key fob could have been made more attractive while still making the mechanical key easily removed, like a dozen other manufacturers do.

Once the start demonstration had been finished, the owner asked about the Start/Stop system, and we sat in the car and moved through several screens in an attempt to shut down the system. There are five possible screens to manipulate, one main screen and four for different users. Plus there is this switch at the back of the center console. A green light above the button indicates an active system and there is a similar light in each center stack screen.

Whether or not the car was running, we could turn the system off on each screen. But, if the running car was shut down, the system returned to on, clearly an electronic default. Or if the non running car was turned on, the system again returned to on!

Only the center console’s control button could turn it off, and it simply needs to be done each time the car is started. Perhaps Volvo is hoping their drivers will get accustomed to using the system, but whether or not this is the case, what is the point of even including a control on the infotainment center screen at all? And why five of them, all useless?

This has been clearly way overthought, particularly if the only real override is on the physical switch.

Shortly after the Volvo experience, we ran across an article about morphing control materials for dashboards. The technology, from Continental, involves the use of controls that disappear when they are not needed. Illuminated buttons essentially move outward at the surface when the driver’s hand nears the surface.

Three-dimensional buttons come to shape as the driver’s hand approaches and disappear when the hand is withdrawn. A little difficult to picture, but its supposed to reduce the number, complexity and distraction of necessary controls. Hopefully engineering that simplifies, but we’ll have to keep an eye out for what appears in actual use.

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A final word about instruction manuals. We am in the middle of an infotainment center install in an Audi A4, and its a real challenge. It doesn’t help that its Chinese made, with sparse instructions that are also very poorly translated.

The first page and the typical warnings for using electronic equipment. In effect, the attempt to write them in English is hilarious, but the fifth line is a favorite and really does read as follows:

“Please do nit ban the use of electronic equipment or it is forbidden to use open flame, such as gas stations, brewery, strong electromagnetic interference region, otherwise may cause danger.”

We would add that the use of inexperienced translator may cause danger as well.

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