DEARBORN, MI â Dynamic interiors executed with a focus on details, quality and targeting a specific consumer will be the hallmark of tomorrowâs vehicles, leading automotive designers say.
Ben Jimenez, project chief designer-Calty Design Research Inc.,Design Network, calls the auto makerâs future approach âVibrant Clarity,â or âa rational and emotive appeal combined with customer focus to achieve customer satisfaction.â
Jimenez, speaking at the Wardâs Auto Interiors Conference here, points to the all-new Venza, a 5-passenger cross/utility vehicle launched late last year, as the first product from the Japanese auto maker to fully capture the Vibrant Clarity approach.
Meant specifically for North American consumers, the vehicle was designed and engineered almost entirely in the U.S., leveraging expertise from Calty and otherlocations in Kentucky and California.
But Jimenez says small interior details combine to make Venza the ârewardâ its buyers seek.
For example, designers optimized the spaciousness of the first row, creating a â60/60-zoneâ for each passenger. In other words, the front passengers each claim 60% of the available area, compared with 40/20/40 sharing of most other vehicles.
Clear, purposeful instrumentation creates an environment of âadvanced refinement,â he says. Also, specialized storage areas, such as a snug holder for a personal electronics device that hides wire connections, convey the feeling of a âperfect fit,â while a map pocket mounted on the passengerâs side of the transmission tunnel provides an extra few inches of inboard knee room.
The rear cargo area bulges out over the rear wheels, adding a few more inches of room than its competitors.
Jimenez says Toyota will carry the Vibrant Clarity philosophy into future products, but each new car or truck will have its own unique identity. âEach approach is a little different,â he says.
Itâs all about the details atLLC, as well, says Klaus Busse, director of the auto makerâs advanced interior design studio. Chryslerâs focus on interiors began in 2006, when present design chief Ralph Gilles established a dedicated studio for interiors where product programs are now done one at a time.
âWe knew things could not go on like that,â Busse says of the past, pointing to an interior shot of the outdated â06 Dodge Ram fullsize pickup. âThings had to change.â
Busse then flashes a slide of the new-for-â09 Ram, a Wardâs Interior of the Year winner for 2009 in the popular-priced truck category. âIt says, âNo, we havenât forgotten great design.ââ
Busse says key developments in recent years included a revelation bymanagement that taking cost out of a vehicle program with each new model year degraded quality. Also, management decided to bring in key suppliers earlier.
For instance,Corp. delivers the instrument panel to the Ram, featuring the industryâs first A-pillar to A-pillar molded seam with saddle-like parallel stitching. Wardâs judges cited the IP execution as a particularly refined design element. Busse says Visteon joined the new Ram program earlier than ever.
Illustrating Chryslerâs attention to detail between the â06 Ram and the latest iteration, Busse points to the thumb wheel of the HVAC vents. The old part was molded hard plastic, whereas the new one receives a soft-touch rubber grip and chrome accents.
Busse says the Chrysler 200C, an EV concept unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit earlier this year, signals the future form vocabulary for the brand. But its development further reveals the auto makerâs commitment to interiors.
As Chrysler struggled to find the perfect touch screen for the 200C from suppliers, it decided to break off a team of its own computer and technology experts into a stand-alone department. The group was given great freedom, and it combed the personal electronics market to create the industryâs first free-form touch screen.
The technologists also integrated the Apple iPhone with the car, going so far as to borrow some of the deviceâs graphic displays, such as its Rolodex-like music library. A unique âpassenger PCâ slides out of the dash, so the passenger can scan music selections or navigation. The tablet involves the passenger more in the driving experience and reduces driver distraction.
Busse says the 200C illustrates the sort of work an auto maker can achieve when the fear of insolvency focuses the mind. âThis is the perfect time for creative minds.â
Moray Callum,Motor Co.âs new executive director of design for the Americas, says the Dearborn, MI-based auto maker talks quality in its studios, although not in the traditional context.
âCraftsmanship, material selection, fit and finish, those are the traditional aspects of quality,â Callum says. But at, he adds, the concept expands to âthe quality of the drive, the experience.â
Callum says for some drivers, todayâs interiors have grown beyond a vehicle cabin and into something more like a family dining room, chat room or coffee house.
The key to perceived quality, Callum says, is to deliver on the promise of the brand. For example, the Ford Mustangâs interior must capture performance and heritage.
Ergonomics play a major role, too. When Ford designers approach a new instrument panel, for instance, they start with three gauges â speedometer, fuel tank and battery charge.
They build from there, trying to seamlessly incorporate unique items such as the Ford Fusion hybridâs efficiency gauge, a vine that grows and dies with the driverâs fuel economy. The feature earned a special-achievement award for graphic display in this yearâs Interior of the Year competition.
Infotainment also can reflect quality. Callum says buyers consider Ford products superior because every model carries the Sync option, and itâs easily upgradable by downloading updates to a USB stick and uploading them into the vehicle.
Sustainability, safety and convenience affect quality, as well, because more and more consumers are willing to pay for ecologically sound materials, such as the soy-foam seats of the Mustang, and new technologies such as adaptive cruise control, rear-view cameras, cross-traffic alerts and active park assist.
Callum traces Fordâs recent strides in interior design to the â01 Ford F-150 fullsize pickup and expects the Ford Fiesta coming to the U.S. next year from the auto makerâs plant in Cuautitlan, Mexico, to be a smash hit.
âWe are all excited,â Callum says of the B-car. âItâs for the connected generation â an extremely dynamic interior.â
Callum also admits greater attention to a vehicleâs interior does little to improve sales results in todayâs record-weak market, but says it does lead to a richer mix that can grow profit margins.
âPeople want high-quality interiors, and they are willing to pay for it,â he says.
Jimenez agrees, adding consumers today scrutinize interiors more closely, because in a weak economy most intend to hold onto their vehicles longer.
âPeople will check and double-check that they make specific decisions on the car they buy,â he says.