TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Now that Johnson Controls’ interiors unit has merged with China’s Yanfeng Automotive Trim Systems to form the world’s largest auto interiors company, it is reorganizing its product-development process to improve efficiency, says Han Hendriks, vice president-Advanced Product Development and Sales.

The new company is headquartered in Shanghai with global engineering, development and customer centers in the U.S., Europe, China, Japan and India. The product portfolio includes instrument panels and cockpit systems, door panels and floor consoles but excludes seats, a business unit that stays with the parent company.

Previously, innovation activities were performed in separate groups. The new APD group integrates all research, technology, innovation engineering and industrial-design teams globally to increase efficiency, Hendriks tells attendees at the recent CAR Management Briefing Seminars.

All new activities involving technology development, design, research and other operations have been consolidated into a new forward-looking product-development group called ADP, Hendriks says. The group is organized around “innovation platforms.”

These platforms develop new concepts around basic ideas such as cost, environmental friendliness, sensory appeal and relevant functionality and then translate these concepts into designs for specific markets, such as low-cost, high-volume urban cars, the Chinese luxury market and autonomous vehicles.

Johnson Controls’ urban-car innovation platform, called Urban A/B, eyes A- and B-segment vehicles that are expected to proliferate in the major cities of Europe, India and Brazil. The goal is development of low-cost, fuel-efficient and scalable global platforms that can meet different end-consumer needs in different regions.

The China luxury innovation platform anticipates China becoming the No.1 market for luxury vehicles by 2020. It is aimed at creating interiors designed for the special preferences of that market, including different health and welfare expectations, such as antibacterial coatings on interior materials and tailored storage solutions.

For instance, a recent Johnson Controls study of nearly 2,000 drivers in the U.S., China and Europe reveals consumers in China have the strongest demand for storage options that are designed for a specific item such as a smartphone. Chinese consumers generally do not like items simply lying around in the vehicle, the study shows.

The autonomous-driving innovation platform seeks to create more quality time in the cabin as commute time is freed up for activities other than steering the vehicle. By 2025, 80% of a typical commute will be controlled by self-driving features, Hendriks says.

And Johnson Controls’ research shows younger consumers and drivers in China especially find self-driving vehicles appealing.

Hendriks says the new product-development organization is designed to be a pipeline that delivers a continuous stream of cost-effective solutions that satisfy OEM customers and excite current consumers while also preparing to address future needs.

“We know if we stopped investing in innovation, we would be out of business in one business cycle,” Hendriks says.