By on August 1, 2017

rusted truck interior old

You might not have noticed, but car interiors are growing increasingly more complex — not just in how they incorporate technology but also in the materials used. While the 1990s were awash in gray or beige plastics and upholstery, today’s vehicles source furnishings from a vastly broader palate.

Hyundai’s Ioniq is a prime example. In addition to using recycled plastics, it also uses bio-fabrics for the headliner and carpeting. Hyundai has also touted the use of sugarcane as a component for the interior’s soft-touch materials, while powdered wood and volcanic ash hides in harder surfaces.

OEMs are always trying to provide customers with something they can’t get elsewhere. More colors, different trim pieces, eco-friendly materials, and little embellishments that could be the deciding factor. Higher-trimmed vehicles from 2o years ago were primarily set apart by their upgraded mechanical components, adjustable seats, and superior electronics. With today’s vehicles already so well appointed, manufacturers are implementing custom stitching, chrome accents, and decorative lighting on a mass scale to inform occupants, “This is not a base model!”

It’s great news for consumers, but suppliers are scrambling to predict what automakers and their buyers will want next.

Rose Ann Ryntz, vice president of advanced development and materials engineering at International Automotive Components Group, told Automotive News that it’s literally a guessing game.

“We just don’t deal with aluminum or steel. We deal with myriad of magnesium, different type of plastics and different fillers,” she said. “I would say it may be more complex when you look at the growth of crafted interiors and how we get there.”

Ryntz said that while suppliers design parts for several manufacturers, they must also leave room to ensure OEMs can provide something  unique to their vehicles. “If a designer asks for a typical type of decoration, we need to understand what happens behind the scenes, underneath what I would consider the ‘A-surface’ to make a quality part,” she said.

Likewise, the expectation of what a vehicle should be has changed dramatically. Understandably, people who spend hours commuting every day want an interior far plusher and safer than the glorified hospital gurneys of yesteryear.

“The interior of an automobile used to be nothing more than a soft bench seat and a roof to keep occupants comfortable and out of the elements,” Michael Harley, executive analyst for industry research firm Kelley Blue Book, said in an interview with Wired earlier this year. “Today, it’s a safety cage, a music amphitheater, a telephone conference room, a place to eat meals, and more. Vehicles are no longer machines that simply move people between two points, and shoppers demand much more from the interior than they did even a decade ago.”

Another sea change seems likely as autonomous vehicles eventually enter into the fray. In-car technology has already gotten to a point where buttons and knobs are no longer a necessity — though they’re very much appreciated. Combine that with automakers perpetually requesting components not add a bunch of heft without sacrificing quality and suppliers have their hands full for the foreseeable future.

“If you look at overall mobility expectations, they’ve pretty much not been defined,” Ryntz said. “I would tell you that the interior of a cabin of a car is not defined, either.”

“We’re designing for everyone,” she continued. “We don’t have electric powertrains versus a combustion engine. We have a myriad of materials, a myriad of deployment characteristics, and I would say in all of it, lightweight is certainly already there but we’re trying to continue to improve it.”

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32 Comments on “Suppliers Scramble to Furnish Sophisticated Interiors (and Predict the Future)...”


  • avatar
    iNeon

    Keyword: myriad

  • avatar
    Dilrod

    May I please trade the telephone conference room option for the soft bench seat?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    FWIW: All that bio-material described for the Ioniq was used in the Nissan Leaf back in 2011. Maybe other greenie cars have done that also.

    As for the Leaf stuff, I found it to be quite comfortable.

  • avatar
    volvo

    ” In addition to using recycled plastics, it also uses bio-fabrics for the headliner and carpeting. Hyundai has also touted the use of sugarcane as a component for the interior’s soft-touch materials, while powdered wood and volcanic ash hides in harder surfaces.”

    Perhaps it is all to the good but I am having flashbacks to auto paint in late 80s to mid 90s when manufacturers moved to water based paints without sufficient lead in time. 40-50 years of progressive materials development set aside

    I usually keep cars longer than 10 years and expect that with garaging and proper care it will continue to look good at that time. If interiors start to fall apart after warrantee period because of the new materials I would be disappointed. And you won’t know if that is to happen for many years. I guess leasing is the path to the future.

    The most obvious example I see are paint formulations that show early signs of failure in sun exposed uses. Where I live the green on new freeway signs turns faded and yellowish within a couple of years and newly painted crosswalks, stop lines and parking lot striping all are failing in 2-3 years. Previously these street markings would last at least 5 years before beginning to fail. In my neighborhood they readjusted the crosswalk markings to align with ADA curb cuts and now after 2 years the new paint is more worn than the 8 year old paint on the earlier cross walks which they left in place.

    Companies doing the work are constrained by the materials they can include in their bid and have no reason to be concerned. It isn’t like the agency that contracted the work is going to force them to redo it. I believe it is not workmanship but the materials they have to work with.

    • 0 avatar
      iNeon

      I’m envious of your good memory– I haven’t the faintest idea as to when my street’s speed bumps were last painted.

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      The rush to low VOC/waterborne OEM coating/paint systems ahead of regulation in the late ’80s -’90s led down a long and tortured path. I carry a few of the scars.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Paint quality and durability is something I’m kind of newly interested in, the more vehicles pass through my hands, the more I can appreciate the differences in quality bewteen manufacturers, as well as what decade paint technology was in and whether it was going through a learning-curve phase after a new environmental regulation.

        My ’96 4Runner’s dark green metallic paint, ’96 ES300’s metallic beige paint, ’97 Ranger’s Vermillion Red paint all held up fantastically, with strong clearcoats, minimal rock-chipping. My old ’98 Mazda MPV (white over beige) was starting to have a bit of clear-coat peeling by 2012. My friend’s ’98 K1500 (white) is having significant clearcoat issues and some of the paint peeling off the roof exposing metal. My wife’s ’12 Camry is incredibly rock-chip prone, with numerous strikes right down past the e-coat that start to rust (I treat them and touch them up).

    • 0 avatar
      celebrity208

      “…expect that with garaging and proper care it will continue to look good at that time.” That expectation will not be met with late 90’s early 00’s VAG products. My multiple Audi’s soft touch arm rests, buttons, and knobs all shed (or began to shed) the paint that made them “soft touch” revealing the hard smooth plastic beneath. #notDurable

      • 0 avatar
        bullnuke

        UV is a killer of soft-touch items. My old OEM coatings manufacturer came up with a UV protection agent for OEM’s to fight the effects. Worked great. OEM beancounters said “Nay, Nay”.

  • avatar
    Fred

    I think this is partially the result of Audi’s success with their interiors.

  • avatar
    Tinn-Can

    more nooks and crannies to make it impossible to ever keep clean… joy…

  • avatar
    2manycars

    I would avoid anything with an interior made from “environmentally friendly” materials.

    When you go green you are giving something up, and paying more for the privilege. Thanks but no thanks.

  • avatar
    thelaine

    A spray or paint-on floor covering that that can be easily hosed down through a convenient drain hole would be a nice premium factory option for those discerning buyers who refuse to compromise. For those special occasions, you could dress it in the finest Corinthan rubber.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    “The interior of an automobile used to be nothing more than a soft bench seat and a roof to keep occupants comfortable and out of the elements,” Michael Harley”. Sure, in about 1952. When were people like this born? And do they have a memory or just pour out assumptions like so much gas? A 1984 Accord was fuzzy plush everywhere and that’s 33 years ago.

    Yes, you could buy complete stripped out interiors in the offerings from the Big 3 on their low end model cars for years. My 1974 Audi 100LS looked more luxurious than the spartan interior of the new Tesla Model 3.

    “OEMs are always trying to provide customers with something they can’t get elsewhere. More colors, different trim pieces.” More colors? Where? They look uniformly black, Nissan gray, or GM baby-sh*t beige to me. The color-coordination of the 1970s is nowhere to be seen. Cheapness is.

    I really wonder about the premise of this article, Mr Lewis. You’re obviously a young lad judging from some of your pronouncements, that betray no real knowledge of pre-1990 vehicles. But just a couple of days ago you showed a ’63 T-Bird interior from a meet (it was the last year of the Third Gen, not second, and shows what I’m driving at) A bench seat and a roof? Hardly. Cannot you harmonize in your mind what you have actually seen from the marketing speak of some bozo like Harley trying to praise sugarcane leaf seats with matching bamboo inserts, all dyed black or dark brown for convenience? He makes similar mistakes to what I perceive you often do – what happened before he was about ten never happened.

    • 0 avatar
      JDG1980

      What he says is truer of trucks than of cars. There was a time not so long ago when most pickups really did have stripped-down, utilitarian interiors.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      @conundrum is correct. When the article states “Vehicles are no longer machines that simply move people between two points, and shoppers demand much more from the interior than they did even a decade ago.” That is pure cow paddies.

      A car represented freedom for many young North Americans from the 1950’s to the end of the 20th century.

      Has the author never heard of a drive-in theatre and what was required of a car interior there. Both from those on dates and later when they brought their youngsters along.

      And if they ever took the time to look at the interior of Malaise Era personal luxury coupes and other Broughamized vehicles they would see just how opulent and baroque a car interior could be. Easily comparable to a New Orleans bordello.

      Or the interiors of custom vans from the 70’s and 80’s. Some done up as campers, some as offices, some as bedrooms.

      Trying to re-write or overlook history is unbecoming of those involved.

  • avatar
    PentastarPride

    Whenever I hear “green” materials, I hear “disposable”. Easy to recycle, hard to endure normal or daily use while staying intact. Questionable paint quality, disintegrating wiring harnesses, etc. come to mind. Sometimes its greener to not be green.

    That said, why aren’t there plastic headliners? I don’t want a fabric headliner. I use a steam wand to clean my car when I do a deep clean. I am very afraid of using the steam to clean a headliner for fear of dissolving the glue that the fabric is attached to. My headliner is spotless but I still feel I need to clean it. So far, I just hit it with a can of Lysol.

    • 0 avatar
      turf3

      Once upon a time, a headliner was made of a sturdy fabric, with loops sewn to the upper surface. Steel rods passed through those loops and the ends of the rods fit into small recesses on the sides of the inside of the roof. These headliners lasted essentially forever.

      Then some smart guy invented a headliner made of pressed fiberboard, with rat fur imitation velvet adhered to it by a rapid-failing glue. For a few years a few automakers resisted this, but the incredible inability of marketeers, bean counters, and executives to ever do anything different than what everyone else is doing, doomed the old style durable headliners, and ensured that all cars even the expensive ones now can provide the “feature” of a headliner that falls down on your head after a few years.

  • avatar
    shaker

    An empty bottle, no health, no ammo. This truck was a waste of time… uh-oh.

  • avatar
    turf3

    Now that cars and trucks have airbags in every conceivable direction, why couldn’t some automaker offer an option of a painted steel dash? No sun-caused cracking. I am really really tired of everything in the interior being made of low quality plastics that crack or disintegrate after a few years in the sun. Also the perpetual haze on the inside of the windshield caused by outgassing of god only knows what from all the plastics. Finally, has anyone besides me noticed that all the “soft touch” plastics turn to goo in a few years? I am really sick of having sticky goo come off on my hands all the time.

    However, all the design and marketeering trends seem to be running counter to my preferences these days. It appears to me that those who design for consumer taste are among the least independent-thinking people on the planet. Once one consumer product does something a particular way and is successful, every single other product of the same type is instantly redesigned to be as identical as possible to it.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      “Once one consumer product does something a particular way and is successful, every single other product of the same type is instantly redesigned to be as identical as possible to it.”

      This is true, but it didn’t just happen recently.

      Witness the Detroit automaker’s shameless aping of each other’s successes for their entire history.

      Do you think everybody just coincidentally and independently decided to put tail fins on cars in the 1950s?

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Personally I would love to be able to afford and purchase a new car using such renewable and ecologically friendly raw materials as burnished wood, matching cowhide leather and thick sheepskin carpeting.

    Much more environmentally friendly than any plastics or recycled materials that require a great deal of petroleum and energy to collect, transport and manufacture.

  • avatar
    turf3

    “While the 1990s were awash in gray or beige plastics and upholstery, today’s vehicles source furnishings from a vastly broader palate.”

    Huh? Today’s color choices are SO MANY. Black. Grey. Beige/tan. That’s it.

    Oh, and by the way, “palate” is the thing in the roof of your mouth. “Palette” is the word you want.

    I think soft touch plastics are an abomination. In a few years they invariably turn to goo. I hate having to wash that stuff off my hands all the time.

    “I would tell you that the interior of a cabin of a car is not defined, either.”

    If not, then why are they all identical?

    Giant unnecessary center console – check.
    Touchscreen in the middle of the dash – check.
    Lots of inaccessible spaces along the seats for stuff to drop into – check.
    Perpetual haze on the inside of the windshield due to outgassing of interior plastics – check.
    Carpet specially configured for maximum accumulation of dirt, dust, mud, etc – check – especially in the light colors, so it can look filthy as soon as possible.
    Plastic molded dashboard specified for earliest sun-caused cracking – check.
    Instrument panel components that require a midget contortionist to completely disassemble the dashboard, interior, and half the AC system to replace one burned-out bulb – check.
    Stereo of weird non standard size and shape so it can’t be replaced by an aftermarket one – check.
    Excessive attention applied to “infotainment” and no attention applied to ergonomics, usability, or safety in operation – check.

    So where are all these “myriad” variations?

  • avatar
    turf3

    Oh, one last thing, we’ve had bucket seats and center consoles for over 50 years now, and still no one has figured out what women are supposed to do with their purses when they’re driving and there’s a person in the front passenger seat. With a bench seat, you just put your purse on the seat next to you. With a center console, you have to either put it down by your passenger’s feet, or precariously perch it on the console where it’ll fall off at the most inopportune moment, or put it in the back seat where you can’t get at it.

    All these brilliant marketeers and designers and no one can figure out an issue that affects more than half the people who drive cars.

    Maybe…we could offer an extra cost option with a bench seat and a column shifter? NAAAHHHH.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      The previous generation Kia Rondo has a fold-out hook on the passenger side of the centre stack that holds a purse strap. Just one of the nice little ergonomic touches that Kia’s designers included in that model.

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