DETROIT – Vehicle owners are getting touchy-feely about touch screens: They want more of them.

Mike Marshall, director-automotive emerging technologies for J.D. Power and Associates, says customers overwhelmingly prefer the direct simplicity of inputting information from a touch-screen interface.

J.D. Power’s 2006 Navigation Usage and Satisfaction Study, the results of which are revealed at the 2007 Ward’s Auto Interiors Show here, simultaneously damns navigation systems with compromised functionality.

Power says customer satisfaction with multimedia systems that do not incorporate navigation systems was measured in 8.76 problems per 100 vehicles. But for multimedia systems with navigation, dissatisfaction is decidedly more evident at 24.01 problems per 100 vehicles.

The results prove features such as navigation that do not demonstrate good functionality and usability have a negative impact on customer satisfaction, Marshall says.

When queried about what sort of human-machine interface is preferred for navigation, respondents overwhelmingly chose touch screens. As many as 45% indicated they preferred touch-screen interfaces, while dial/knob controllers, such as BMW AG’s infamous iDrive, score a barely visible 2% to 3% preference.

Equally telling, a majority of vehicle owners with dial/knob-type controllers said they wanted a touch-screen HMI for their next navigation system.

But while it is tempting to assume the study results might lay the groundwork for the demise of iDrive-type HMI, Marshall tells Ward’s the question only pertains to how consumers want to interact with the navigation system – not necessarily all the other multimedia or vehicle-control systems, such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

“Consumers want multiple methods of entry” to various vehicle systems he says, including steering-wheel controls and voice-command systems, adding that the latter still need refinement.

Other results in the study indicate 16% of all reported problems with new vehicles are HMI-related, and that quality gains in other areas have been offset by dissatisfaction with HMI.

A surprising 20% of study respondents said they would go so far as to buy a different brand of vehicle if the navigation system they preferred were not available. Owners of certain brands were particularly adamant on this point – 41% of Infiniti buyers and 38% of Acura owners indicated they would switch brands if navigation systems did not meet their requirements.

Marshall says the response points to “a new breed of owner that’s loyal to components, loyal to functionality.”