More stories related to Auto Interiors Show DETROIT – While gray and tan interiors are the norm in U.S. vehicles today, the auto industry is on the verge of a customization trend that will allow consumers to opt for more vibrant, exciting colors and designs, two Lear Corp. executives say.

The Southfield, MI, interior mega-supplier, like its primary competitor Johnson Controls Inc., does exhaustive research with regard to the design and feature preferences of today's vehicle buyers.

Lear currently is conducting online surveys that allow consumers to “Build Your Own Interior” by selecting the specific components they find worthwhile. Topping the list, Lear's research reveals, are 8-way power driver seats and side impact airbags.

The study also asks participants how much they are willing to pay for certain features, says Patrick Murray, vice president-research and development design.

Because so many young people surf the Internet daily, the survey has become a valuable tool to identify the needs and wants – and future product cravings – of the all-important Generation Y.

Murray spoke this week at the Auto Interiors Show here at Cobo Center and was joined in his presentation by Tom Russell, Lear's vice president-product engineering. Russell says he is pleased to see more auto makers' advertisements highlighting interiors content.

“No longer do you just see a car driving down the road,” Russell says. “Now, you actually see people using the interiors of their cars. That's why we're so excited about this trend toward 'smart' interiors.”

Lear has an impressive technology that allows significant customization. The supplier's 2-shot Multi-Cavity Injection Molding allows part of an instrument panel or door panel, for instance, to be formed first as a substrate, then immediately remolded to apply a wide array of colors or textures in Class-A finish.

Russell says the benefits include more flexibility and improved fit and finish. As a bonus, the process, when applied in volume programs, actually costs less than conventional molding.

Concept cars such as the Nissan Arctic and Renault BeBop – both with distinctive, futuristic interiors – have applied the process already. In the near future, Russell says the process will be used for high-volume vehicle programs to produce climate-control vents and door-trim panels.

Murray says Lear has discovered through its research that consumers are not averse to the use of common architectures for seats. The supplier uses one frame and one set of mechanisms as the structure for an entire range of seats for Fiat Auto SpA vehicles in Italy.

From the low-priced Fiat coupe to Ferrari supercars, and all points in between, one seat structure does the job. Differentiation is achieved from vehicle to vehicle through the use of fabrics, foam and other features.

In North America, Lear applies common seating architectures on 14 vehicle platforms across multiple customers. Looking to the future, however, both Lear and Johnson Controls have argued for more commonality in seat structures, saying potential cost and efficiency savings could be tremendous.

Lear's research identifies a few features that appear to hold little interest for most consumers, including infrared-based “Night Vision,” Bluetooth wireless connectivity and external sensing for blindspot detection and backing up.

That iss not to say these technologies will never gain popularity. Russell says it just may take more time for people to embrace them.

“Consumers won't know they want something if they haven't been able to experience it,” Russell says. When his wife purchased a car several years ago with a key fob for the first time, he says it took a short while before the fob's value was obvious.

“After two weeks with a key fob, I told my wife we'd never be without one again,” he says.

Today's fobs are controlling an increasing array of vehicle functions, including sliding power doors and liftgates, trunk releases, panic alerts and, most recently, remote starting – a handy tool on a cold winter morning.

Lear is entrenched in this emerging market. And some new passive-entry fobs don't even need to be touched to unlock doors.

The next generation of fobs may come equipped with liquid crystal display (LCD) screens that allow 2-way communication with a vehicle when a button is pushed. For instance, some consumers want remote-start functionality up to 1,640 ft. (500 m) from their vehicle.

The vehicle transmits a signal back to the fob, which displays on the LCD screen whether the vehicle is running, as well as the air temperature in the cabin. Russell says he expects the 2-way fob will be in production within two to three years.

tmurphy@primediabusiness.com