The next generation of car buyers will demand additional personal space, a more functional cargo area and smarter family-friendly options from their vehicles.

Pat Murray, president-Murray Design LLC, likes to call the Millennial Generation, or those consumers born in the 1970s, the New American Family.

“They are active and very concerned about their individuality,” Murray tells a panel on family-friendly interiors. “They are very child-centric, and their trips together are going to be very important.”

That places a premium on roomy and defined spaces inside a vehicle that each passenger can call their own; cargo areas where all the “play stuff” can be stowed neatly; and creative options to make family outings less raucous.

Murray offers designers this piece of advice: Listen to your mother. Globally, women make 80% of all family-purchase decisions and influence some $60 billion in annual spending, he notes.

“Keeping the family happy in the vehicle is what it is all about,” Murray says. “And keeping mom happy is most important. If mom is happy, everyone is happy.”

As such, auto makers must shift where they spend money. Do not stop at the instrument panel, Murray says, referring to a longtime tendency in North American vehicles. Address the center console by moving the gear shifter to the IP, for example, or design a floating console. Both free up storage space.

Maximizing style and space were top priorities for General Motors Co. designers working on the Chevy Equinox. The redesigned CUV is a sales home run.

Chris Hilts, creative design lead-Chevy Equinox, says the design team attacked specific areas, such as storage and function, value, family-friendly materials, technology and lighting.

For example, the Equinox has a sliding second row to open up rear cargo space or improve legroom. Designers also identified high-traffic areas and applied durable, scuff-resistant materials.

No expense was spared on technology, Hilts says. Optional navigation systems receive larger 7-in. (18-cm) displays.

The design team attended to the tiniest detail, Hilts says, incorporating items consumers might value but not entirely recognize. He admits the approach often led to battles within the development team.

“But if you keep fighting hard enough and keep asking why, you'll get your answer,” he says.

Not only do trends point to more family-friendly interiors, future buyers likely will want lighter colors inside their vehicles, as well.

Nathan Mullinix, vice president-research and development at leather-supplier Eagle Ottawa LLC, says 52% of all vehicles sold today have interior colors that are light or of a lighter value. In five years, 60% will contain lighter colors, the company predicts.

“As we think about these light trends,” he offers, “I wonder if there is a disconnect starting to form in peoples' minds. Are we suggesting we are going to use light colors in family vehicles?”

While the future is light, future leathers also must be durable, soil resistant and easy to clean, Mullinix says.