Volkswagen Will Bring Back Physical Buttons In New Cars

Volkswagen is still intent on marching its entire lineup of vehicles toward electrification in many of its markets. With that modernization of vehicle powertrains also comes more contemporary interiors; that means meshing design languages with current industry trends like minimalism, which involves ditching physical interior buttons with touch screen controls.

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Unfortunately for VW, that hasn’t exactly been well received by consumers. Owners have pushed back against the German automaker moving controls to the large tablet-like infotainment touch screen on the dashboard and haptic-based steering wheel buttons, finally forcing the automaker to reverse its decision on going buttonless—and that all starts with the new ID.2all concept.

Volkswagen has been trying to fix its interiors for a few years now. Under former CEO Herbert Diess, the German automaker decided to follow in Tesla’s footsteps and centralize a vast majority of its controls to the infotainment screen. It also removed the physical buttons from its steering wheels and replaced them with touch-sensitive capacitive buttons instead. This move, according to VW, “frustrated customers who shouldn’t be frustrated.”

The automaker has since reverted its since on the steering wheel buttons and is looking to now claw back its reputation for something that its current CEO, Thomas Schäfer, says “did a lot of damage” to the brand.

That change all starts with the Volkswagen ID 2. Recently, VW’s interior designer, Darius Watola, spoke to Autocar on the ID.2 concept’s take on the company’s design language for future vehicle interiors. Watola confirmed that the concept showed a new approach for all models across the VW brand which was revamped due to customer feedback.

A row of physical, backlit buttons now sits directly below the touch screen on the ID.2 concept. The buttons provide customers with easy access to commonly used HVAC controls, which—while it doesn’t address every control in the car—is a step in the right direction. The car will also get a manual volume button and a large center knob (a la BMW iDrive) which provides complementary controls for other aspects of the vehicle.

The controls also clearly lean on the importance of feel, even featuring metal knurling so occupants can easily feel them without taking their eyes off of the road.

“Once you have it, don’t touch it again,” said Volkswagen CEO Thomas Schäfer in an interview with Autocar earlier this year. “Bloody leave it. Don’t confuse our customers every time a new model comes out and something is completely different. Optimize it. Bring into the future. But don’t change buttons from here to there, to there and here.”

It’s no secret that consumers have pushed back on automakers who simply slapped an iPad on the dashboard in place of physical controls. Heck, Volkswagen isn’t the first automaker to change its stance back to the old-school physical button approach, either. Let’s be real—if Volkswagen is really trying to regain its relevancy in markets like the United States (even if this change was geared at the European market), it has to take customer feedback seriously. And it looks like the Germans are starting to do exactly that.