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4 mins

Was Everything Better Back in the Day? The Evolution of In-Car Dashboards

The latest generation of vehicles come with a set of steering wheel displays – but can these “spaceships” become a point of intersection of old cars and new technologies, for example state-of-the-art navigation solutions?


29 Dec, 2022

Back in the day, life was simple when you finally got your hands on your brand-new car you had craved for: You just opened the door, got in, turned the ignition key, eased on the gas, and drove off. Today, you’re likely to face a considerably tougher challenge in a similar situation, as you may need to use a smart-phone application to connect to your super intelligent car, or may even have difficulties to find the seat controls. But don’t let new technologies scare you. They are quite intuitive to use and can be easily integrated in veteran cars as well.

Take a look behind the steering wheel

It was not long ago when traditional analogue controls and displays were mounted behind the steering wheel of every car and reading the speedometer or fuel gauge was easy as pie. Then the first models featuring digital instruments for a heavy upcharge appeared, and the fancy meters and gauges were soon replaced by color displays. Today, high-end and expensive cars come with standard digital controls and meters. One may consider this a gesture of goodwill but as a matter of fact, it is easier and cheaper for manufacturers to integrate an instrument cluster than mounting an old-fashioned panel consisting of several mechanical components.

Against the stream

There is a fair chance that this trend will reverse in the absolute luxury category, meaning that contrary to old traditions, premium manufacturers will charge heavily for replacing digital instruments with analogue ones, not vice versa. Why? For a simple reason. Most probably, well-off customers will be happy to pay an extra charge for leaving the cutting-edge but soulless displays behind to return to the sophisticated analogue instruments with a touch of craftsmanship. This latter can also be enhanced with HUDs designed to project images on the windscreen while discretely running in the background – now also featuring AR-based graphics, not to mention advanced options of voice instruction.

Touch me

The ratio of touchscreen monitors built in the middle section of the dashboard and, following the latest trends, in front of the front-seat passenger has considerably increased nowadays. The displays have become bigger and bigger, the initial 7–9-inch displays were step-by-step replaced by 10–12-inch ones, and today’s high-tech models frequently come with “influencer” 14–17-inch panels. The explanation behind this increase in size is that developers have integrated a continuously growing number of functions in the same unit, while the traditional push buttons and rotary knob controls are gradually disappearing. Ideally, the car maker can find the golden mean, that is, the frequently used functions, the radio and the air conditioning system remain controlled by traditional push buttons. One of the benefits of this arrangement is that the majority of right-handed drivers face considerable challenges when trying to use the touchscreen panels in a right-hand-drive car – luckily, functions controlled by voice instructions have also gained ground in recent years. In this latter case, uttering “I’m cold” can be enough for the air conditioning system to raise the temperature.

Navigation ON

The increasingly large size and high-resolution displays have a highly beneficial effect on the driver’s navigation experience. Additionally, there is a growing number of people who prefer mirroring the screen of their smart phones, that is, transmitting—either in a wired or wireless fashion—the information of the GPS navigation application run on the smart phone to the on-board system of the car. Luckily, cherished retro and vintage cars don’t need to do without navigation either, and there are effective alternatives to GPS navigation software run on a mobile fixed to the windscreen of the vehicle. NNG’s navigation solution optimized for old cars seamlessly integrates into the peerless dashboards. The 1- or 2-DIN devices coming with either a touchscreen or traditional controls easily fit in several car types, while the map database can be effortlessly updated from time to time. Moreover, the navigation software developed for and built into vintage cars allows the driver to switch to speakerphone or play music files without substantially changing the look and feel of the old-style dashboard.

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