Chrysler Replacing Owner’s Manual with DVD

The New York Times today carries a story about Chrysler replacing paper owner’s manuals for its cars with DVDs. This sounded sensible to me when I read the headline, but then I thought about what would make sense…

  • most of the dashboard space devoted to speedometer, etc., replaced with an LCD screen
  • GPS navigation standard
  • wireless Internet receiver to connect to the free universal wireless Internet that perhaps some day the U.S. will construct and, until then, to open networks, the owner’s home network, and the dealer’s network
  • a bit of flash memory

Given these items of infrastructure, which an engineer who didn’t have any experience in the automotive industry would probably design in, the extra hardware cost of on-screen help would be $0. If a driver got confused about how to use the car, he or she could browse through a text/photo/video owner’s manual on the screen normally devoted to navigation (note that this is how Nikon digital SLRs work; you can press a Help button at any time). The manual and GPS would be kept up to date with trickled data through the Internet receiver. In the event of a total system meltdown or for stuff that needs to be done outside the car, e.g., changing a tire, there would be a 20-page printed quick reference guide.

With Chrysler’s design, the urban owner who is confused about his car will have to walk several blocks back to his apartment, put a DVD in a player (will the average person even have a DVD player in 5 years, once everything of interest can be streamed?), watch the DVD, try to remember what he saw, then trudge back to the car. Couldn’t he use his laptop computer in the car? That would be nice except that increasingly people are getting netbooks without DVD drives. And in any case shouldn’t a $25,000 car be able to explain itself?

So… it sounds as though finally a car company is adapting to the modern world, but actually they are adapting to the way things were in 1975 when a CRT would have added a lot of weight to the car, computer data storage and processing was expensive, and it would have made sense to send the consumer home with a Betamax cassette.

11 Comments

  1. Rob Schoening

    September 23, 2009 @ 7:21 pm

    1

    Hardware companies are just terrible at designing software. The exceptions are few and far between.

  2. Will Crawford

    September 23, 2009 @ 7:54 pm

    2

    Except for the case when they need to check the manual because the car won’t start. So there is a certain amount of value in decoupling.

    The only time I have ever used a car manual is in an emergency or semi-urgent situation, almost always related to “how do I change/jump the battery again.” This speaks in favor of the paper manual.

  3. winston

    September 23, 2009 @ 9:16 pm

    3

    in case you didn’t make it to the last paragraph, it seems they aren’t eliminating a paper manual, just reducing it in size and supplementing it with the dvd:

    “Accompanying the DVD will be an owner’s guide, with color photographs instead of the traditional manual’s minimalist line art, of 40 to 80 pages. The user’s guide, Mr. Motta said, will cover basic knowledge, including major features and instructions for handling typical roadside emergencies.”

  4. Cincy Steve

    September 23, 2009 @ 9:50 pm

    4

    In 5 years of sitting in a hot glove box that old style paper manual may have slightly yellowed. That same DVD will have a chance of delaminating or being scratched up and being absolutely unusable.

  5. Roger

    September 24, 2009 @ 4:00 am

    5

    Why on earth would they use a DVD? Wouldn’t having the information online be best.? They say you can download the manual, but a PDF document is nowhere near as good as a set of constantly updated web pages.

  6. Jagadeesh Venugopal

    September 24, 2009 @ 9:19 am

    6

    One solution is to put the manual on the web so people could look at it with their smartphones. Of course it would have to be re-purposed to make it easy to browse and read on a device with a small screen, and to be bandwidth-savvy but that can be done. Heck, they could even make a little iphone app out of all their car manuals.

    With that said, I think Chrysler has bigger problems than manuals on DVDs. For starters, putting out product of acceptable quality and economics that people will want to buy.

  7. Dave

    September 24, 2009 @ 11:45 am

    7

    my dad has bought a series of chrysler minivans. the latest is a 2007 model with multiple dvd players, hard-drive-based music player, touch screen, etc. the ui is atrocious and the disc player sometimes won’t recognize perfectly cromulent media inserted within. even though the car has little screens all over the place i wouldn’t be confident that i’d actually be able to view the dvd in it.

    i do think there’s the germ of a good idea here. video is a natural for showing people how to do things like remove seats, open/close panels, etc. as others have said, it’d be great if the entire text of the owner’s manual plus instructional videos as appropriate were available via the web. as a prospective buyer i would think it perfectly reasonable to streamline the printed owner’s manual if that were the case.

    heck, produce the video segments to show off the car’s performance and ergonomics and it might become a selling point. i bet the slashdot crowd would love it.

  8. Bob Oppenheimer

    September 24, 2009 @ 1:26 pm

    8

    One of the reasons for which a manual is included with a car is to protect car companies from lawsuits. Should vehicle owners do something stupid and hurt themselves, car companies can shield themselves from liabilities by pointing to any relevant instructions included in the manual. Given this, car companies would want to supply manuals in a format that is accessible to everyone, including those people who might not own computers or smartphones, or are not very adept at using them.

    A car, unlike a computer or software, probably won’t change or need to be updated all that much once it is built. So any manuals probably won’t need to be updated the way that a webpage can be.

    Phil:
    Replacing all the analog instruments with an LCD screen, and adding navigation and flash memory as standard equipment would raise cost. It’s probably not reasonable to expect this kind of innovation and risk-taking from car companies under economic pressure. The free universal wireless Internet that perhaps some day the U.S. will construct isn’t constructed, and perhaps won’t be any time soon. No car company will want to incur the cost of including wireless receivers in cars given this degree of uncertainty.

  9. philg

    September 24, 2009 @ 2:04 pm

    9

    Bob: You say that that the manual should be “in a format that is accessible to everyone”. Not everyone owns a DVD player. If the car could display its own help screens, everyone who owned the car would be able to look at them (unless the car were completely dead, in which case the owner would revert to the emergency paper summary).

    The LCD screen from a $150 Audiovox DVD player or a $100 Garmin GPS would raise the cost of a car substantially? Chrysler is already trying to sell cars that cost $20,000 more than a four-passenger Tata Nano. Shouldn’t a consumer get something for his extra $20,000? If not, why would we expect Chrysler to survive competition with Tata?

  10. Chaminda

    September 27, 2009 @ 2:35 pm

    10

    Hi Phil,
    I agree with Bob. The car manual should be in a format that is accessible to everyone and use everywhere. Otherwise people end-up printing relevant pages on home computer…yeah save some trees. I think we are far behind on the idea of displaying help menus on the car GPS or dash board.

    On another note, our company stop printing manuals for medical imaging software some time ago. That is because, the manual is available to view on screen while using the product. We have made the help menu context sensitive and uses loves this.

  11. SuperMike

    October 1, 2009 @ 1:41 am

    11

    You’re tempting me to “hot glue gun” an iPhone to my dash. (That would only add a couple hundred to the cost of my car and be far better than any electronics suite I’m currently aware of.)
    My mom’s excellent Honda navigation system was a about $2000, as I recall. Here’s hoping the guys at TATA can do better.

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