Nicolas Diehl

Nicolas Diehl

Continuing just-auto's series of interviews with tier one manufacturers of cockpits, Matthew Beecham spoke to Nicolas Diehl, VP Sales & Portfolio, Business Unit Instrumentation & Driver HMI, Continental about consumer expectations, material trends, display screens and the head-up display market.

What do consumers look for and expect from their car cockpit nowadays? And what is expected as a minimum in the mid-range segment?

By just looking at a 10 year old cockpit, we would immediately see what is expected nowadays for a mid-range segment: it has to look high tech with a full colour TFT [thin film transistor] display in the cluster as well as in the centre stack. For the secondary display, touch functionality is becoming the norm. It has to be connected to your smart phone - USB, BT, mirror link - and include a lot of sensors mainly related to safety such as rearview camera, rain detection and park assist. With the increasing number of functions in the car, ease of use is becoming more and more important. So, a well structured HMI [human machine interface] concept is required.

What developments / trends are you seeing in terms of the material being used to cover the instrument panel?

For the luxury/premium cars, leather is still the trend at very high cost. Besides this, we have TPO [Thermoplastic PolyOlefin] that looks like leather but less expensive. Other variance for IPs are plastics sometimes painted or wrapped with foils that looks wood, carbon fibre, etc.

For emergent markets or entry level cars, IPs are produced mainly polypropylene, with colour  pigments.

Natural resources, such as natural fibres are already in use but for a while, only for reinforcements not main surface. Improvements of the natural fibres usage are still under investigation.

In BRIC countries, are there any notable difference in terms of consumer tastes for car interiors compared to more developed nations?

Probably less and less difference. The digital revolution is a worldwide revolution, and the effects on the car are quite similar in terms of major trends (displays, connectivity). The implementation may differ (design of the HMI, graphics, icons), but major trends are the same.

How do you see the automotive market for head-up displays shaping up in terms of OEM adoption?

We anticipate a strong growth on the HUD market, not only on the windshield solution, but on the combiner as well. These two solutions are complementary to cover the complete range from entry to high end cars, offering to our OEM a real differentiation for their own marketing strategy. [For example,] a combiner HUD for B, C segment, windshield HUD for D, E segment.

The CD player is still ubiquitous in new cars. Isn't it about time that the auto industry makes USB and Bluetooth standard and the CD player optional in mainstream cars?

We see already the demand for CD player decreasing for the car lines currently in development. The trend goes toward the substitution of CD mechanism by USB/BT/Wifi functionalities that bring many advantages [such as] cost, weight, quality, connectivity to external devices.

There have been a lot of changes in the cockpit over the past decade alone. How would you sum up today's technology focus?

Indeed, a lot of innovation entered in the car in the last decade, increasing the complexity for the driver to digest all these innovations and information. We are now entering a phase where all these innovations need to interact with each other. Switching from a sum of innovations to a comprehensive HMI for the end user.

As for tomorrow's instrument cluster, I guess we can expect increasing use of the smart phone and even removable tablets. What's your view of how this area of the car could evolve?

Definitely, the integration of mobile device is and will remain the major challenge for the coming years. But we do not see the screens of the mobile substituting displays in cars. Displays will remain and even increase in number and size in the car, to display, beside the car information, the phone information which makes sense for the driver, in an adapted HMI for the car environment.

With the car is being increasing synchronised with advances in consumer electronics, talk of driver distraction is often heard. To assist the driver, we hear about how tomorrow's windshields will feature 'augmented reality' technology.  What is your vision?


The remainder of this interview is available on just-auto's QUBE cockpits and instrumentation research service