Commentary

I have an idea what I want for Christmas, but I just can’t put my finger on it. Literally.

Short of a lively throttle, the automotive environment offers no human-machine interface more satisfying than a touch-screen navigation system. Want to go somewhere? Tap a few icons and you’re on your way.

Contrast this with BMW’s iDrive, Audi’s MMI (multimedia interface) or COMAND (cockpit management and data) from Mercedes-Benz. Each takes the joy out of joystick. In the time required to program these cumbersome systems, you can go from Point A to Point B and back – with a quick stop at the drive-through.

I’m not alone here. A J.D. Power and Associates’ survey released earlier this year showed 45% of consumers prefer touch-screen devices to unforgiving point-and-click systems that require the finesse of a professional video gamer.

The problem with touch-screen technology is fingerprints. Use it just once and you leave behind enough DNA to inspire a season’s worth of CSI episodes.

And these greasy smudges don’t go away easily. They mar the otherwise pristine landscape of a vehicle’s interior long after “You have reached your destination,” as the systems are fond of saying.

The ugly blotches withstand cleaning the way superbugs resist vancomycin, considered the antibiotic of last resort. Uranium-238 has a shorter half-life (look it up).

The auto industry has solved turbo lag (credit BMW), devised lightning-quick manual-mode automatic transmissions (VW’s DSG gearbox) and developed hybrid powertrains capable of towing a houseboat (GM and Chrysler), but it can’t make a smear-proof nav screen.

Mazda does the next-best thing. Its tilting screens minimize the glare that highlights offending splotches. But that’s like sweeping dust under the rug.

Suppliers shrug and blame biology. Our skin is always oozing, they say, before trying some misdirection. “How about that resolution?”

It’s enough to make you want to use a map. Or driving gloves, which would actually make a fine Christmas gift. (I take size 10). But I digress.

If I can’t have a hygienic navigation screen for Christmas, I want floor mats that don’t bunch up at my feet.

This is no laughing matter, either. In September, Toyota was forced to recall 55,000 Camrys and Lexus ES 350s because their mats crept up and threatened to hold down the accelerator pedal.

For a stocking stuffer, it would be great if the industry could reach a consensus on hybrid-electric-vehicle terminology. There are full hybrids, mild hybrids, “strong” hybrids, parallel hybrids and, most recently, 2-mode hybrids.

They’re all gasoline engines married to electric motors. Pick a label and stick with it, please.

But since Christmas is about giving, not receiving, I wish:

  • To see Armor All removed from store shelves, so Ralph Gilles can sleep at night. Chrysler’s design ace says he’s fighting a losing battle with interior gloss levels because consumers continue to slather on the time-honored cleaner.
  • Lots of luck to Canadian Auto Workers President Buzz Hargrove when he enters contract talks next year. Detroit auto makers will expect him to provide cost-relief measures similar to those in the new United Auto Workers deal.
  • For House Speaker, and rabid CAFE proponent, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to get a clue.

Merry Christmas everyone. Keep the rubber side down in 2008.

emayne@wardsauto.com