It's a far cry from the 1980s, when the Cadillac Allante's dashboard was cluttered with 40-plus buttons. The goal, of course, is to adopt controls that will allow motorists to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.
But that's easier said than done. Last month, J.D. Power's annual Vehicle Dependability Study revealed that infotainment, navigation and audio systems generate 20 percent of the problems reported in 3-year-old vehicles.
Balky Bluetooth pairing of smartphones, unreliable voice recognition and hard-to-use navigation systems were among the 10 most frequently reported problems, according to J.D. Power.
Automakers have taken these complaints to heart. After Ford Motor Co. received numerous complaints about the usability of its MyFord Touch user interface, it introduced a redesigned version with eight control buttons under the console screen.
But these are temporary setbacks, Boyadjis argues. He points to the results of an IHS survey that asked 4,000 car shoppers how they would prefer to use their smartphones while driving.
Seventy-five percent favored the vehicle's speech recognition, 70 percent wanted to use the center console's touch screen, and 69 percent preferred steering-wheel controls. Respondents were allowed to choose more than one option.
And that's why automakers continue to shift from conventional buttons to touch screens, steering-wheel controls, voice recognition and gesture controls.
Which companies will profit from this trend? While more than a dozen suppliers are battling for a niche in the market for cockpit controls, IHS estimates that six — Valeo, Kostal, Tokai Rika, Preh, Delphi and TRW — control over half the market.
For Germany's Preh GmbH — an injection molder and maker of cockpit controls, factory automation and electric-vehicle battery management devices — the cockpit has been a boom market.
If you own a BMW 7 series, you've twiddled a Preh-supplied iDrive control knob, while buyers of the new Mercedes E class will press Preh's steering-wheel switches.
Last year, Preh, based in Bad Neustadt, Germany, and owned by China's Joyson Electronic Corp., reported global sales of $864 million, up 25 percent. Cockpit controls generated roughly 80 percent of that increase, said company CEO Christoph Hummel.
In a March 11 interview with Automotive News, a sister publication of Plastics News, Hummel said he isn't ready to consign traditional buttons and knobs to the trash bin.
"I think I would like to control the temperature by using a knob rather than going down into two or three menus to find a function," Hummel said. "I expect some buttons will remain, but there will be fewer."
The idea is to give motorists a choice. Some might prefer voice commands, while others would opt for touch screens or traditional knobs. "It depends on my mood and what I want to do," Hummel said.
So Hummel — and Boyadjis, for that matter — isn't prepared to write off buttons just yet. But if the latest crop of concept cars are any indication, Allante-style button arrays are a thing of the past.