VAN BUREN TOWNSHIP, MI – After exiting bankruptcy Oct. 1, the newly restructuredCorp. looks to the continent of Asia for 42% of its revenues.
So it should come as no surprise the supplier launched an in-depth research initiative a year ago to better understand the type of interior features required to attract car buyers in the emerging market of India.
Dubbed the Growth Market Car, the concept was on display for a media technology review at theheadquarters here before heading to India for additional market testing and customer reviews.
The car, based on a 4-doorA-Star already available in India, is larger than a Tata Nano but smaller than a Fit or Chevrolet Aveo.
Visteon has technical centers in Pune and Chennai, as well as five manufacturing plants in India. Richard Vaughan, Visteon’s manager-corporate innovation and design, took five trips to India over the past several months to lead the research program that yielded the concept car.
The research program centered on the regional demands of both auto makers and consumers. In the end, 560 Indian consumers in the two cities participated, and the project gathered 3,300 individual vehicle observations, Vaughan says.
“We got people to articulate to us, through the use of a clever questionnaire, what’s most important to them in terms of perceived quality, which is not just about the interior as we define it in the car industry but can also be about the electronics,” he says.
“People are very focused on electronics, and poor execution of electronics – switches, knobs and buttons – can have a detrimental effect on the overall impression of the vehicle even if everything else is fantastic.”
Researchers discovered Indian consumers use the same negative term as their counterparts in more mature automotive markets when referring to an interior perceived as cheap: “plastic-y.”
Visteon wanted to find out the root meaning of the term in India, whether it refers to color, grain and gloss, or whether it relates to sound or smell.
“As it turns out, it’s very similar in both markets, and it has a negative connotation in both markets,” Vaughan says.
But the climatic demands placed on interiors in India are unlike those in Europe, the U.S. and northern Asia.
“It’s extremely hot and dusty in some parts of India,” he says. “So an interior has to look soft, and it has to look clean, even if it’s dusty. There are all kinds of grains you can use that actually collect dust. Something like that is important in India.”
Visteon collaborated with 3M Automotive in developing the concept car, integrating the climate control, electronics, instrument panel and center console from Visteon, as well as lighting, decorative wood-like film on the door trim and acoustic management materials from 3M.
Also included is a simple fan positioned at the back of the center console, between the two front seats, aimed rearward. This low-cost option – suggested in the consumer research – eliminates the need for separate ducts to direct air to the back seat.
“You might still want a breeze if you’re sitting in back, so we just put a fan in, to grab the air and push it to the rear,” Vaughan says. For more than one occupant, the fan can be equipped to oscillate.
“We wanted to make sure we understood the way to design a low-cost car that was really appealing to someone in that market because to that person it’s not a low-cost car,” he says.
“What I learned while I was there is, even if it’s only a $3,000 car, it’s still probably the biggest thing that consumer will every buy.”
The interior of the Growth Market Car is designed to be reconfigurable. For instance, not every developing market requires passenger airbags. In those regions, the dashboard can be removable, allowing storage space for groceries and other goods.
Vaughan says all the products integrated in the concept vehicle, including the monochromatic display, are ready for production.
During his travels in India, Vaughan recognized an emerging middle class aspiring to own cars.
“When you have 1.2 billion people, even if only a small percentage of the population can afford a car, it’s a huge market,” he says.
“People there want really stylish cars. They want cars that reflect their lifestyle. People who can afford cars in India are successful, educated people. Even if they are buying inexpensive cars by our standards in the West, those are people who have achieved a lot in life.”
When the Growth Market Car embarks on its Asian tour, it will travel along with another Visteon concept vehicle, C-Beyond, which incorporates more than 40 innovative technologies in climate control; infotainment and connectivity; and interior and exterior lighting.
Heating and cooling is distributed vertically through vents in the ceiling, cascading down on occupants in four discrete zones. This frees up valuable real estate on the instrument panel, which has no air vents but plenty of room for storage and other infotainment features.
After C-Beyond and Growth Market Car complete their tour of India, they will head for China, then Europe, Vaughan says.