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7 Innovations in Auto Interiors

13 November 2015 - Automotive News

7 Innovations in Auto Interiors

In the automotive design world, interiors once played second fiddle. The glamour and glory resided in the sleek, beautiful sheet metal of the exterior.

But the game has radically changed. Technology is transforming what carmakers can do with interiors. The rise of autonomous driving, especially, will change how customers spend time in the cabin.

Says Han Hendriks, vice president of advanced product development and sales for Yanfeng Automotive Interiors: "We think the interior is going to change more in the next 10 to 20 years than it did in the last 100 years."

The revolution is under way in current vehicles filled with features, technology and materials undreamed of a few years ago.

Mark Boyadjis, senior analyst for IHS Automotive, says customers who haven't bought a new vehicle in a while will be amazed.

"I think it would be very shocking to a buyer who bought a car in 2005 or 2008 what the replacement for their car might look like today," Boyadjis said. "Compared to a Chevrolet Malibu back in 2005, it's a completely different vehicle if you were to go and pick up a 2016."

Beyond improvements in quality, change is driven by the radical transformation of the automobile in the era of autonomous driving, the sharing economy and the rise of the Chinese market.

The move to autonomous driving means people will interact with their vehicles in different ways. With more time on their hands, motorists will bring more stuff along, so they'll need more storage.

And interiors must be designed to enable the switch from human-driven to driverless mode. Indeed, as Mercedes-Benz showed in its Vision Tokyo concept, self-driving cars may enable a transition from conventional rows of seats to new layouts.

Here are some innovative interior features that are in production, coming to a vehicle soon or on somebody's dream list.

2016 Volvo XC90 flexible seating

What it is: A crossover with seating for seven adults and yes, that means grown-ups in the third row, too — as long as they’re not basketball players. From the project’s inception, Volvo designed the XC90 interior so that there’s no difference between the seating layouts in the T8 plug-in hybrid model and the T6 conventional powertrain model.

Why it’s cool: Large battery packs can compromise interior space in plug-in hybrids. Volvo solved the problem by running the battery pack through the transmission tunnel nearly to the back of the first row of seats. The layout gave Volvo extra room at the corners for ample seating and a cavernous luggage area. Also, the three second-row seats individually adjust forward and backward on separate tracks.

What Volvo says: “There’s great history in the XC90 with having seven seats that truly seat adults. … From the onset when we had the initial thought of the next XC90, we wanted to make sure we protected for that seating configuration. That was a special thing to do because we knew we were going to be protecting a battery pack. So we decided to innovate with the configuration, where we put the battery pack.” — Tisha Johnson, chief designer for interiors, Volvo Cars Concept and Monitoring Center

When in production: On the 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 and coming soon on the T8 plug-in hybrid

Faurecia First Inch DeCo Control

What it is: Customizable controls integrated into the dashboard materials and decoration. With the advent of smart materials, Faurecia believes the boundary between display screens and surrounding interior materials will blur. Controls will be engineered into the dash, door panels and elsewhere. Faurecia’s First Inch concept features a bowtie-shaped panel made of aluminum with switchless controls enabling haptic feedback. Faurecia says such a panel could also be made of wood.

Why it’s cool: Controls designed with haptic feedback can be built into 3-D surfaces, giving designers more flexibility. These controls will eliminate the need for many buttons and switches.

What Faurecia says:“We believe for the future there will be a fusion between [human machine interface] components with the decoration. We will have bigger and bigger screens. There will be a fusion between the display and the surface. Suddenly, when you switch on, you will see information through the decoration. We believe it will change the interior completely.” — Tamim Belhaj, Faurecia product director of human machine interface systems, mechatronic and center controls

When in production: A version of the technology, DeCo Display, will go into production next year on the Alfa Romeo Giulia.

Art Center College of Design interactive stitches for Jaguar

What it is: The stitches are part of a concept students at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., created for Jaguar. Student Eirik Stensrud wanted to use familiar materials to transform a digital function into a tactile, emotional experience. His solution: touch-sensitive, directional baseball-style stitches on the console, door and steering wheel that the driver uses to control functions formerly operated by knobs and buttons. The stitches — made of a new carbon fiber material — work in concert with knobs and are connected to the vehicle’s head-up display.

Why it’s cool: The stitches could eliminate many interior switches and buttons, enabling designers to create a clean, elegant look.

What the art center says:I wanted the reaction to be more emotional with the car. My idea was when you’re using more of your senses, the attachment with your car will be stronger. I ended up focusing on touch. Keep your eyes on the road all the time but keep in touch using touch.” — Stensrud

When in production: Interactive stitches are on the relatively distant horizon. Jaguar’s advanced design team asked the students to come up with a concept for 2030.

Lear Intu Intelligent Seating Ecosystem

What it is: A seating system that takes occupants’ biometric measurements to monitor wellness, and changes the seating position accordingly

Why it’s cool: Feeling fatigued?

The Intu system will adjust the seat into a more upright posture to improve alertness. It’s not limited to fixed settings.

What Lear says: “The future of seating is going to be a lot more personal. It’s really not looking at the seat in a static sense but in a very dynamic, intelligent way.” — Ray Scott, president of Lear’s global seating business

When it’s in production: Lear says a customer plans to use the system in 2018.

2016 Toyota Highlander illuminated storage

What it is: An open, almost cavernous, illuminated bin runs along the bottom of the cockpit module below the climate and infotainment controls.

Why it’s cool: Toyota created extra storage space in an area of the vehicle where space is at a premium.

What Toyota says: “It is widely known that the space inside the instrument panel is very tight. It is full with structural and mechanical components, safety features such as airbags, ventilation, infotainment system and the list goes on. It’s completely packed and everyone involved is fighting for space. To carve out such a substantial space is unthinkable. What’s more, we had to figure out the ideal angle and cross section of the tray so that things/belongings don’t slide out easily. However, everyone in the development team was committed to making this magic possible.” — Naoki Nagatsu, project manager, Toyota Highlander

When in production: On the 2016 Toyota Highlander, arriving now in dealerships

Yanfeng Automotive Interiors Catchbin 2.0

What it is: Slender storage bins that fit between the seat and the center console to catch coins, french fries and other items that fall “between the cracks.” Yanfeng, a joint venture between Yanfeng Automotive Trim Systems Co. and Johnson Controls, included the feature in its Innovation Demonstrator 2016, or ID16, concept vehicle shown in September at the Frankfurt auto show. The ID16 showcased Yanfeng’s vision of interiors in the age of autonomous vehicles.

Why it’s cool: The ID16 showed lots of innovative features, many of them more ambitious and high tech than the Catchbin 2.0. But these skinny bins show that no detail, however small, is escaping Yanfeng’s attention.

What Yanfeng says: You sit behind the wheel and something drops out of your pockets or trousers, it can be coins, your cellphone, whatever. We’ve all had that experience. If you drop something, Catchbin will catch it. It connects to the floor console via magnets. You can easily take it out, put it in your dishwasher and put it back.”— Han Hendriks, Yanfeng Automotive Interiors vice president of advanced product development and sales

When in production: Possibly in late 2017. Yanfeng declined to name a customer.

Mercedes-Benz Vision Tokyo

What it is: Mercedes-Benz introduced its latest take on the autonomous vehicle at the Tokyo Motor Show. The Vision Tokyo dispenses with the traditional seating layout in favor of a contemporary lounge concept. If the car needs to be driven manually, “a seat facing in the direction of travel can be released from the center of the couch at the front, rather like the ‘jump seat’ in an aircraft cockpit,” the company said in a release.

Why it’s cool: There is no front or back seat. Rather, passengers sit on an oval-shaped couch. There are wraparound LED screens behind the passengers. Apps, maps and displays from the infotainment system can be displayed as 3-D holograms.

What Mercedes says: “As a contemporary-style club lounge, the Vision Tokyo brings people together. With the car in autonomous driving mode they are able to chill and chat, without having to worry about steering a way through the dense traffic.” — Daimler press release

When in production: This is a pure concept car. It was designed by Mercedes-Benz global advanced design staff “looking well beyond the next generation of vehicles,” the company says.  

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