Aston Martin is finally upgrading its aging infotainment system - TechCrunch

When it comes to touchscreens and in-car entertainment, Aston Martin not only lags behind ultra-luxury rivals such as Lamborghini and Bentley, it also lags behind cheaper tech models.

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

Historically, infotainment systems have not been a high priority for performance car manufacturers. This is especially true for Aston Martin, a small-budget independent company that prioritizes performance and luxury items over dashboard displays.

“What you have to remember is that we are an independent brand,” chief creative officer Marek Reichman told TechCrunch in a recent interview. “It has huge advantages and sometimes disadvantages, and we have to cut our clothes accordingly.”

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

The company lacks the financial backing that giants like Volkswagen AG, which owns Lamborghini and Bentley, have access to. Instead, Aston Martin has for years relied on its partnership with Mercedes-Benz to provide the British marque with an older version of its software and operating system. The German giant switched from the COMAND system for its own models in 2018 in favor of its new MBUX infotainment system.

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

Aston Martin is finally ready to replace its trackpad controls with touchscreens, a move most automakers made years ago.

The reason is twofold: across the industry transition to software-based electric vehicles relies on sophisticated dashboard electronics; meanwhile, advances are constantly raising customer expectations of what an infotainment system should deliver.

Aston Martin’s next-generation system features a “far more modern” user experience and user interface, chief creative officer Marek Reichmann said. “With electrification, UX and UI are our price of entry.”

Daily drivers

The emergence of the high-margin, often fuel-guzzling 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, DBX, exposed the brand to a new type of customer. Unlike track sports cars, SUVs are typically bought as daily drivers, focusing on comfort and usability, including infotainment systems.

This year’s arrival of the high-performance DBX 707, named after its horsepower, exacerbated Aston Martin’s weakness against the competition. Although the SUV’s performance competed directly with the ultra-fast Lamborghini Urus and Bentley Bentayga, the brand lost affluent buyers who were less enamored with its outdated infotainment system.

Screen size

Still, Aston Martin customers shouldn’t expect to see dominant touchscreens without a single button. HVAC functions, for example, will still use buttons, as will the drive mode selector in the center console.

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

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

“We’re not focused on screen acres,” Long said. “Since your eyeliner is only in a certain area, you just want the navigation and basic 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 the whole real checker board.”

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

“People expect the jewels of the car,” Long said. “Our switches are milled from solid metal that feels cool to the touch, and that’s part of the luxury sector experience. People love the smell of leather, the touch of the cold keys in the morning. It’s part of the sensory experience that says, “I’m in my Aston today and it’s a nice place to sit.”

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