Aston Martin is finally upgrading its old infotainment system – TechCrunch

When it comes to touchscreens and in-car entertainment, Aston Martin has not only lagged behind ultra-luxury rivals such as Lamborghini and Bentley, but has also left lower-priced tech-forward models behind.

Now the automaker is gearing up to catch up with a modern infotainment system that will be rolled out across its portfolio starting this spring with the arrival of its next generation of sports cars.

Historically, infotainment has not been a high priority for makers of high-performance cars. That’s especially true for Aston Martin, a small-budget independent company that prioritized performance and luxury touches, not dashboard displays.

“What you need to remember is that we are an independent brand,” Chief Creative Officer Marek Reichman told TechCrunch in a recent interview. “That has enormous advantages and sometimes disadvantages, and we have to cut our clothes accordingly.”

Aston Martin is a publicly traded company majority-owned by a consortium of investors, including Mercedes-Benz and Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, who joined Aston Martin in 2020 as executive chairman.

The company doesn’t have the kind of financial backing that behemoths like Volkswagen AG, which own both Lamborghini and Bentley, have access to. Instead, Aston Martin has relied for years on its partnership with Mercedes-Benz to provide the British brand with an older version of its software and operating system. The German juggernaut switched from the COMAND system for its own models in 2018 in favor of its new MBUX infotainment.

“Mercedes has given us the reliability, but the user interface consumers expect in the luxury market must now go far beyond that,” said Alex Long, Aston Martin’s chief of product and market strategy. “I think it’s always difficult for small manufacturers to develop competitive solutions.”

Aston Martin is finally ready to swap out its trackpad controls for touchscreens, a move most automakers made years ago.

The reason is twofold: the industry-wide transition to software-based electric vehicles relies on advanced dashboard electronics; meanwhile, advancements are constantly raising customer expectations about what an infotainment system should offer.

Aston Martin’s next-generation system offers a “much more sophisticated” user experience and user interface, said Chief Creative Officer Marek Reichman. “With electrification, UX and UI is our entry price.”

Daily drivers

The advent of the often gas-guzzling, high-margin ultra-luxury SUV segment has also forced the automaker to pay more attention to its entertainment and navigation capabilities.

The launch two years ago of Aston Martin’s first SUV, the DBX, exposed the brand to a new type of customer. Unlike track-based sports cars, SUVs are usually bought as everyday drivers focused on comfort and practicality, including infotainment.

This year’s arrival of the high-performance DBX 707, named for its horsepower rating, exacerbated Aston Martin’s weakness against rivals. While the SUV’s performance rivaled the ultra-fast Lamborghini Urus and Bentley Bentayga, the brand lost affluent buyers less enamored with the outdated infotainment system.

Screen size

Still, Aston Martin customers shouldn’t expect dominant touchscreens, not even a button in sight. For example, HVAC functions still use buttons, as does the drive mode selector in the center console.

“I think other companies have learned that if you put everything on screen, it’s really hard,” Long said. “You don’t just turn on the windshield wipers; instead, you have to press three times on a screen that’s actually not that big.’

The automaker hasn’t said how large its touchscreens will be, but Long said some will be larger than the 10.25-inch screen in the DBX. Across the industry, screens have soared from Tesla’s original 15-inch iPad-style screen (then twice the size of other screens on the market) to the 56-inch screen in the Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.

“We’re not focused on acres of screen,” Long said. “Since your eyeline is only in a certain area, you only want the navigation and primary controls. You don’t want to be disturbed by anything else on the other side of the car. So we’re not going to give up all the real estate on the dash to to screen.”

A luxury car should focus on the quality of the materials that trim its cabin, not the size of the screen, he added. That is why the car company keeps at least some old-fashioned buttons and buttons instead of operating all functions via the touchscreen.

“People expect the jewelry from the car,” Long said. “Our switches are machined from solid metal that is cold to the touch, which is part of the experience in the luxury sector. People love the smell of the leather, the touch of the cold switches in the morning. That’s part of the sensory experience that says, ‘I’m in my Aston today and this is a nice place for me to sit.’”

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