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Buttons are back! Hyundai and Genesis admit style overrode safety with the removal of buttons and dials, so they are bringing them back

Hyundai has redesigned the Tucson with a return to physical switchgear.

Everything old is new again. The hottest trend at the 2024 New York Motor Show, at least for some brands, was the return of physical switchgear. 

After the industry trend for recent years has been the reliance on digital screens with virtual buttons, dials and sliders, both Hyundai and its luxury division Genesis announced the return of conventional hardware. Both companies cited safety as the main reason, but it comes in the wake of push back from consumers in the recent past.

The move to digital screens was seen as both adding technology and functionality, but also helped companies save costs - in terms of development, tooling and production. Now, though, Hyundai and Genesis have admitted they went too far.

The facelifted Hyundai Tucson drops the previous centre fascia, which features a large infotainment screen above an array of soft-touch, digital buttons for the climate control system. In its place comes a revised dash layout, with hard-touch dials and buttons for the climate control and other key functions, such as the stereo volume and power.

Luc Donkerwolke, who is Chief Creative Officer for both Hyundai and Genesis, said the decision to revert to conventional switchgear will mean more cost for the company, but he believes its crucial from a safety perspective.

“We are always paying attention that we don't end up in the ridiculous situation that you have to go to sub menus,” Donkerwolke said.

Donkerwolke sees the return of real buttons and dials as an addition to the more modern options.

He added: “And it's easy to reduce all costs when you only have digital keys [buttons]. It's low tooling investment, you can do whatever you want, it's only software. The problem is it's not compatible with the use of a car. We have a clear philosophy, eyes on the road [and] hands on the steering wheel, and if you do something else like that you are basically putting in danger the life of your customers.”

Not that the South Korean brands will do away with digital screens. Rather, Donkerwolke sees the return of real buttons and dials as an addition to the more modern options.

The hottest trend at the 2024 New York Motor Show, at least for some brands, was the return of physical switchgear.

“So main functions have to be, let's say, doubled down by hard keys,” he explained. “Those hard keys can be digital, it means they can be configurable, you can have a hard key, but it doesn't mean that it has all the same function… The normal things that you always do, like volume, that you have to change, some temperature functions, some safety functions, you need to be able to activate them without keeping your eyes from the road.”

Hyundai and Genesis are far from the only brands taking such action. Volkswagen and Aston Martin have also admitted physical switchgear is better and will be a focus for the future, while NCAP will begin testing car controls as part of its safety testing.

Stephen Ottley
Contributing Journalist
Steve has been obsessed with all things automotive for as long as he can remember. Literally, his earliest memory is of a car. Having amassed an enviable Hot Wheels and Matchbox collection as a kid he moved into the world of real cars with an Alfa Romeo Alfasud. Despite that questionable history he carved a successful career for himself, firstly covering motorsport for Auto Action magazine before eventually moving into the automotive publishing world with CarsGuide in 2008. Since then he's worked for every major outlet, having work published in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age,, Street Machine, V8X and F1 Racing. These days he still loves cars as much as he did as a kid and has an Alfa Romeo Alfasud in the garage (but not the same one as before... that's a long story).
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