Continuing just-auto’s series of interviews with tier one suppliers, Matthew Beecham spoke to Fritz Schweindl, Director Advanced Engineering International Automotive Components (IAC) Europe. IAC is a global supplier of automotive components and systems, including interior and exterior trim.

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

There is no global cockpit success recipe as customers have different needs around the world, i.e. Chinese consumers look for as much improvement in the rear of the interior because chauffeurs are much more common while North Americans tend to look for greater utility in the popular SUV and crossover segments.

Also consumers in Asia prefer light colours (beige, white) in their interiors. For cockpit design this requires a two colour surface because light colours in upper cockpit areas have a high reflexion so there is a need for colour split in the IP [instrument panel] surface. In Europe personalization is key, so we now see complex material mixes, two tone soft touch skins, leather options expanding into the mid-range segment. A perfect example of this trend is the cockpit on Skoda Superb which is already in its second two tone generation.

Also there is a clear trend for clean and simple IP surfaces where components are well embedded (airvents, deco bezels, switch plates) with small radii and gaps.

This design trend needs adequate production technologies to be realized and that is where we see IAC uniquely positioned with its vertically integrated development and engineering capabilities. For example, with the IAC premium FastKast skin process where we are able to produce skins with superior haptic and longevity with less energy and more quickly than in conventional slush processes.

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

As a material and surfaces specialist, IAC supports the general trend away from all-in dash instruments to connectivity with external devices, which we approach from our own perspective: sight, sound and touch. Is the fit and finish perfect? Is the interior quiet and can I verbally communicate with my electronics? Is the touch softer and more pleasing to my hand? From a tier one point of view, lightweight design is surely a global trend which we support with the use of new natural fibre composites for visible and structural parts and in-house developments for thinner molded parts.

Our OEM customers demand that multi-material lightweighting strategies are coupled with efficient production processes leveraging existing equipment and reducing complexity. One example is IAC’s participation to a development project spearheaded by Ford and sponsored by the German federal Ministry of Agriculture (BME) in which a new NNPP composite was developed and specified for automotive usage both in terms of crash simulation but also in terms of serial production. IAC produced the prototypes on the regular B-MAX line in Bals, Romania.

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

IAC is not in this market but HUD has been in the market for two decades and it has not really been embraced. The challenge for future HUDs will be to find design solutions to be embedded well in the surface design without adding too many tooling variances.

Could you draw on an example on the way in which IAC has pushed back the technical boundary of vehicle acoustics and soft trim, in particular for lightweight solutions?

IAC’s developments range from material to production and offer solutions along the entire interiors value chain. For example, have introduced natural material solutions like EcoBlend and BioFloor used in package trays and trunk trim. These materials are much lighter, eco-friendly and offer improved NVH [noise, vibration and harshness] performance.

Leveraging our acoustic know-how, we have developed interior components with integrated acoustical properties and combined aesthetics with function. On the Ford B-MAX headliner, for example, a low cost one-step headliner has been trimmed with our acoustic know-how to feature best-in-class sound absorption and combine two functions in one part to save weight and cost.

Some other interior components in lightweight construction and combined acoustic functions include lower IP covers (Opel Corsa) or door trim pockets made from recycled fibres. IAC has a 25 year history in developing renewable and lightweight materials for automotive interior applications. Latest applications are trunkside trims in natural fibre/PP in series on Audi Q7, VW Touareg and Porsche Cayenne as well as replacing steel components in overhead systems.

OEMs are continually experimenting with LEDs to create certain lighting ‘moods’ with the cabin. How is IAC supporting this?

IAC has its own advanced electronic integration team focused on applying functional features as heated surfaces, backlight and animated surfaces onto interior components. Currently we are working on several customer projects for illuminating headliners and door panels with an IAC patented solution.

There is a lot of talk these days about the autonomous car and the future of driving. How will that impact the cockpit?

From a design point of view we will see a big change in the current set up away from a driving unit (steering wheel, cluster and pedals) to a new multifunctional front seat row with flexible displays, storage and fold away instruments.