Suppliers Scramble to Furnish Sophisticated Interiors (and Predict the Future)

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
suppliers scramble to furnish sophisticated interiors and predict the future

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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  • Turf3 Turf3 on Aug 02, 2017

    "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?

  • Turf3 Turf3 on Aug 02, 2017

    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.

    • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Aug 02, 2017

      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.

  • SCE to AUX Faraday Future shouldn't even be here, and they won't make it. Other ultra-expensive EVs are fun projects for companies who can fund them from other revenue.The Lucid Air is a strange one because it starts at $87k but can run to over $250k. Most cars jump only around 50% for top trims, not 300%.As for EVs - don't give me more power (easy); give me more range (hard). And quicker filling time.
  • Dukeisduke It's funny how stuff like this crosses over between sites nowadays - there's an article about it today on MacRumors: Polestar 2 Software Update Brings Wave of New Apple CarPlay Features - MacRumors
  • Fahrvergnugen "If you’re itching for an ultra-exclusive EV – and who isn’t – "Me...
  • Dukeisduke Tim, once all this foam is everywhere, how do you get rid of it? Does it take a while to break down? I think of the scene in the 1963 James Garner / Doris Day film "The Thrill Of It All", where boxes of soap end up in the swimming pool, creating mountains of foam. The Thrill of It All (1963) - IMDb
  • MrIcky I have a foam cannon, it makes washing the car much faster which helps me do it more often. Foam cannon>pressure wash>suds bucket and mitt for tough spots but touch as little as possible>pressure wash those spots>spray on some detailer solution as I dry to keep the water beading up. 15 minutes-ish?