Special Coverage

Auto Interiors Conference

DEARBORN, MI – Indian consumers are more discerning than the West perceives, says Richard Vaughan, design office manager at Visteon Corp.

“Right now, there’s a general belief in the West that India goes for smaller, cheaper versions of Western vehicles,” says Vaughan, who spent much of the last year coordinating consumer research in Dehli and Bangalore.

“Indian consumers want something different,” he says during a panel discussion on luxury at the Ward’s Auto Interiors Conference here.

Auto-industry stakeholders who ignore India do so at their own peril. India is “where you will all make your money” in coming years, Vaughan says.

The executive is mum on the details of Visteon’s research results, but reveals Indian consumers prefer uniqueness to the cachet afforded by aligning oneself with a luxury brand.

Status symbols have greater importance in China. “India is not like America or China – at all,” Vaughan says, adding material finish and clever design also resonate in India.

But on the design front: “They don’t like to see how things are constructed.”

Yuri Starik, Acura ZDX project leader at Honda R&D Americas Inc., suggests clever design is appreciated the world over as he shows how a hidden compartment in the cross/utility vehicle can accommodate two “overstuffed” computer bags.

The ZDX adheres to Acura’s mantra of “passionate escape,” Starik says, before drawing chuckles from techno-geeks in the crowd with: “You can’t get that without computer bags.”

Meanwhile, luxury’s appeal is as strong as ever – despite the recent global economic meltdown.

“People will buy a premium product in any category if you give them a reason,” says Rob Huber, Faurecia North America’s vice president-marketing and design.

Huber suggests steady growth also is inevitable. “Whatever is considered a luxury now will undeniably be seen as a necessity by future generations,” he says.

Especially in the U.S., adds Peter Evans, Benecke-Kaliko AG’s vice president-NAFTA. The rolled-goods supplier has conducted research that indicates Americans, more so than consumers in most other nations, are receptive to the risks associated with spending more for luxury.

“We built America on the unknown,” Evans says.

emayne@wardsauto.com