For decades, drivers could count on a few interior features to be consistent from one vehicle to the next.
An easy-to-find lever to shift the transmission.
An easy-to-grab knob to adjust radio volume.
A big crank by their knee to open and close the window.
Hardly anyone mourned the loss of manual windows—though a few of those anachronisms are still out there, tucked in the bargain corner of some dealerships' lots—but auto makers are increasingly hitting resistance from consumers as they try to streamline and modernize their vehicles' interiors.
In some cases, they hurriedly backtrack after discovering that the sleek new instrument panel meant to make rivals' look stale instead threatens to drive away buyers.
For some, no CD player can mean no sale, despite the salesperson's repeated attempts to explain that the voice-controlled, 19-speaker, premium audio system with Bluetooth connectivity and Apple CarPlay works better.
"The shift in technology is enclosed within that cockpit," said Mark Boyadjis, an automotive user experience analyst with IHS Markit. "What auto makers are looking at is new ways to drive customer engagement, brand user experience and to clean up the interior."
In the eight years since MyFord Touch became the poster child for frustrating dashboard redesigns, auto makers have learned that just because a new technology or feature helps create a fresh, snazzier look, customers are not necessarily going to love living with it every day—or at 70 mph.
Witness the humble audio volume knob, which some auto makers excitedly replaced with touch-sensitive sliders. But the tried-and-true, if dated-looking, way to turn the sound up or down with minimal distraction is very much alive in most 2018 models. American Honda relented on the 2017 CR-V and 2018 Accord after customers complained about having to repeatedly tap alongside the touch screen instead of just flicking a wrist.
"Our customers and frankly, many of you, said, 'We want a knob,' so the knob is back," Jeff Conrad, then-senior vice president of Honda Division, said at a media event in Detroit last year to unveil the fifth-generation CR-V.
But Honda and other auto makers likely aren't done trying to find a better solution. Boyadjis said the volume knob will disappear when auto makers figure out a way that doesn't annoy their customers.
"My opinion is that they'll go back to something else in the future," he said, noting that Tesla doesn't use knobs and buttons but hasn't experienced any noticeable backlash. "It's not a permanent piece of the vehicle going forward."