February 2013 management briefing: Automotive interiors (1)
Toyota Yaris dashboard
This month's management briefing considers that latest developments in automotive interiors. In this first instalment, extracted from just-auto's QUBE cockpits and instrumentation intelligence service, Matthew Beecham talks to Inteva Products about trends in the design and appearance of instrument panels.
The desire for a spacious interior, something always equated with luxury, is prompting interior designers to use new combinations and package of electronics and mechanical functions to modify or move pre-existing systems like air distribution, glove box, heating/cooling and audio facilities. Matthew Beecham talked with Patrick Stewart, vice president and executive director, Interior Systems, Inteva Products about some trends in the design and appearance of instrument panels.
In terms the features that consumers look for and want from their car interior, Stewart believes they notice a harmonious match of colours, grains, gloss, and materials, as well as a flawless fit and finish of assembled components. “While some consumers may not be swayed by a specific material such as leather, the consumer is becoming more discerning when it comes to the interior of the automobile.”
Meanwhile, the trend in instrument panels continues to focus on safety, leading to the introduction of innovations such as knee airbags and energy-absorbing substructure. More specifically, Stewart sees OEMs continuing to place strong emphasis on safety and safety related features. “The hidden airbag door will continue to be a key styling enabler,” he says. “Knee airbags continue to gain popularity as the drive for five star crash performance continues. This is a powerful marketing tool for OEMs since top safety is considered a top need for the consumer. The occupant protection provided by the instrument panel and related components plays a pivotal role here.”
In terms of the BRIC countries, Stewart does not see many differences in consumer tastes when comparing Brazil, Russia, India, and China to countries such as Germany and the United States. “There is a pretty good spread in the positions of these countries relative to where the market and consumers are. It’s really a simple matter of affordability; and this is evolving rapidly. As the premium OEMs such as BMW and Mercedes expand their presence in China, for example, they bring more luxury to that developing market of consumers. The interiors of the automobiles sold in these developing markets will closely follow the price point of the vehicle. As the status of the middle class develops, more expensive vehicles will be obtainable. The infrastructure needs and other regulatory issues, such as safety, will also be key drivers in how soon the consumers in those countries will be driving a vehicle comparable to what is found in the more developed countries. China is essentially there, and the local OEMs are racing fast to upgrade their interiors to the level of the established OEMs that have come to China to build cars.”
In terms of the material used to cover the instrument panel, Stewart sees it trending in a premium direction. “More vehicles will have wrapped constructions with stitching. Leather is the most premium of cover materials and desired by all, but at a very high cost. The challenge for us is to develop materials that simulate the look and feel of real leather, while maintaining the cost of the engineered plastic and olefin materials. Inteva has developed a wrappable TPO material that has the look of leather with a soft luxurious feel to meet this need.”
Interiors case study: Toyota Yaris
The latest Toyota Yaris has an improved cabin, in terms of design, specification and materials quality. “Quality is being driven in that direction by the increasing sophistication of the customer in the B segment,” said Toyota Europe's manufacturing purchasing chief, Mark Adams. Speaking on the sidelines of a media presentation at the French plant in Valennciennes that makes the Yaris, he said a rising number of customers for that B segment car were migrating down from the C segment (Auris, Golf, Focus, etc) and bringing their expectations with them. Hence items like multimedia system, Bluetooth, panoramic glass roof and dual zone automatic climate control.
Using fewer suppliers for more parts has also helped, Adams said: “From a sourcing strategy, we've tried to source the complementary parts in the vehicle cabin from the same supplier and that means they tend to be using the same toolmakers and therefore you see a greater degree of 'complementation' in the plastic finishes in the cabin. Much of the facia (dashboard) plastics are sourced from the same factory and therefore we can tune the quality to be complementary.”
What the customer perceives as “better quality” is not necessarily provided through using “more expensive materials”, Adams added. Different materials or different surface treatments can make a difference. “We heard loud and clear criticism on previous [Yaris] models of too much hard plastic that, when tapped, made a noise like a drum. To provide new materials which are perhaps a little softer, a little more forgiving in their aspect, a little deeper in the grain pattern, maybe with the application of some soft-touch finishes as well, is not enormously more costly to provide, it's just a different solution to provide.”
He said the previous design wasn't necessarily borne out of an economic need but a perception of what the customer wanted and that had changed. 'Scatchability' had been an issue, along with 'cleanability' and that was now being factored in to materials selection.