Ever since touch screens started finding their way into cars around 20 years ago, interior designers have been trying to figure out what to do with all the switches, buttons and knobs.
Take them away, as Honda did with the radio controls in many vehicles six years ago, and customers get annoyed. Honda eventually reinstalled the good old-fashioned mechanical audio volume knob; Ford also brought back some switches and knobs.
European automakers have taken plenty of heat for burying key functions in infotainment systems, making the driver scroll through menus just to make a simple adjustment. There might be another way to replace intuitive old-fashioned switch gear with electronics that does not infuriate drivers.
I recently spent an hour chatting with executives and engineers at Marquardt Group's North American tech center in suburban Detroit. I also tested some of the future technologies the 98-year-old German supplier is developing.
Marquardt may not be a familiar name, but the company is a Tier 1 supplier whose products are used by major brands. The thin band of cool color-changing LED lights inside Mercedes-Benz vehicles? Marquardt's. The steering wheel switches on General Motors trucks and SUVs? Marquardt's. It's a big-time company that's been making interior switches and lighting for light vehicles for half a century.