Europeans are colorful and flamboyant, Americans are conservative, and the Japanese are even more reserved. If you're talking about people, that's an overly broad generalization. But if you're talking about automotive interior fabrics and design, it's doubtful you'll get many arguments.

Step into any typical American or Japanese vehicle sold in the U.S. and the interior color and fabric choices run the gamut from A to B.

In Europe, things are different. And I'm not talking about just sporty little vehicles aimed at young trendsetters such as the Renault SA Twingo. Even staid, serious German luxury carmakers such as Mercedes-Benz AG offer a variety of interesting and colorful interior combinations on most of their vehicles sold in Europe. This cultural gulf is particularly noticeable on European and U.S. versions of cars such as Mercedes' new CLK Coupe. European versions - while still tasteful - are very bright, cheerful and interesting. U.S. versions feature the obligatory wood and muted leather tones and seem dull by comparison.

Mercedes officials explain that an interior trimmed with dark wood and grayish leather is what Americans expect to see in a Mercedes, regardless of what type of Mercedes or the personality of the purchaser.

The U.S. Big Three have been doing interesting experiments lately with interior trim, but their efforts rarely make it past the concept-car stage.

Not everyone wants this to remain the status quo. Carl Olsen, chairman of the Transportation Design School at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, wants U.S. designers to loosen up and get a little more adventurous with interior trim.

The result of this conviction is the Tekqua, a retina-burning concept unveiled by CCS at the North American International Auto Show. Using a Dodge Dakota extended-cab pickup truck as the base vehicle, CCS students collaborated with automotive suppliers such as Lear Corp., PPG, ASC and 3M to create an entirely new type of vehicle.

One of the most interesting touches is using Neoprene wetsuit material for seat coverings and trim. "The students decided on wet suit material right away because the vehicle has no roof," says Mollie Fletcher, CCS instructor for the Fiber Design Program in the Crafts Dept. "Brightly colored Neoprene waterproofs the interior for extreme water sport enthusiasts by day and provides a progressive look for an urban night crowd."

Neoprene also is woven into floor pads to replace conventional auto floor mats. Seat foams and frames were redesigned to complement the water and technology motif. Mr. Olsen says Neoprene is a great material to work with because it stretches both ways, and is relatively inexpensive.

Okay, maybe this trim package wouldn't be appropriate for your Lincoln Town Car, but it does help young designers see there's more to interior trim than deciding which wood grain goes best with gray leather.

Big global growth predicted

for plastics within five years

The total poundage of plastics in vehicles built in North America hasn't budged much in the past five years, but plastics producers are forecasting big gains overseas during the next five. What's more, Volkswagen AG's plastic-fendered New Beetle, and Chrysler Corp.'s introduction of four plastic-bodied concept cars suggest North America will see a jump in plastics use domestically as well in the not-too-distant future.

Lawrence A. Denton, vice president of Dow Automotive, says global plastics use in cars will soar in the next five years. The average 1997 automobile in the global marketplace has about 210 lbs. (95 kg) of plastics, and that should increase to 230 lbs. (104 kg) per vehicle by 2002, he says. That will bring overall plastics use to 16 billion lbs. (7.3 billion kg) in 67 million vehicles compared with 11 billion lbs. (5 billion kg) in 55 million vehicles produced worldwide in 1997.

Mr. Denton doesn't say it, but in essence, it appears plastics producers want the rest of the world to catch up with North American vehicles, which are estimated by American Metal Market to have an average of about 242 lbs. (110 kg) of plastic per car.

Mr. Denton predicts that most of the plastics growth will occur in Europe, but he also sees good short-term opportunities in South America and long-term opportunities in Asia. Dow is strategically well positioned to grow globally with the auto industry, Mr. Denton says. The company has 115 plants in 37 countries.

Material selections already have been made for models through 2001, Mr. Denton says, but starting with 2002 he predicts a new generation of plastics more resistant to thermal expansion and scratching will spur additional use.

Also spurring growth will be more use of plastic in structural parts. Dow has enjoyed considerable success with the implementation of plastic structural air ducts in vehicle instrument panels. This principle could be used to make other structural plastic parts in the future, Mr. Denton says. Meanwhile, Dow is making further inroads in Europe. Dow's Pulse 2000 resin has been specified for an application on the 2000 model year Rover Heartland, and may win a spot on an upcoming Fiat model as well.

Other future models that will use Dow plastics include the Saturn Innovate, which will have plastic vertical body panels just like other Saturn models. Dow will supply plastic materials for interior parts of the new BMW AG SUV to be assembled in South Carolina (the parts will be molded by Sommer Allibert). The redesigned Opel Corsa due in 2001 will use plastic supplied by Dow as well.

Plastics use in the typical North American-built family vehicle have been stalled at about 245 lbs. (111 kg) for the past four years, American Metal Market estimates. That could change if Chrysler decides to build any one of four concept vehicles it has developed over the past several years featuring plastic bodies: the low-cost CCV "China Car" for third world markets; the Pronto mini people mover; the Pronto Spyder midengine sports car, and the Intrepid ESX2 hybrid vehicle.

Each plastic body is made from glass-reinforced polyethylene terephthalate (PET) - the same thermoplastic used for soda pop bottles. Chrysler and its suppliers are investing so much effort and money in these various plastic concepts it seems inevitable a production vehicle will evolve from the process.

- with Herb Shuldiner

Herberts and ICI Paints Cooperate in Asia

Herberts GmbH inks an agreement with ICI Paints to supply automotive OEM coatings in Asia. Under the agreement, Herberts will provide ICI with the technology for its range of OEM products, which includes electro-coats, primers, basecoats, topcoats and clearcoats. In the initial phase, ICI Paints will receive licenses covering India, Malaysia and Thailand.

AlliedSignal and DSM form Recycling JV

AlliedSignal Inc. and DSM Chemicals North America, Inc. sign a letter of intent to form an $80-million manufacturing joint venture to recycle used carpet. The 50/50 venture is expected to remove more then 200 million lbs. (91 million kg) of carpet from landfills each year. Facility construction will begin this year at an existing DSM site in Augusta, GA. Production will begin in mid-1999. The JV partners also have developed and patented rapid identification technology for faster collection and sorting of various carpet types. A spokesman says the venture will be able to offer customers polymer or fiber containing post-consumer and post-industrial content in various percentages, and the quality will be equivalent to material without recycled content.

Brazil's Galvanizing Capacity to Grow

Brazil's largest steel-maker, Companhia Siderurg-ica Nacional (CSN), is contemplating building a $200- million hot-dip galvanizing plant in southern Brazil to complement its recently announced plans, in partnership with T hyssen Krupp Stahl of Germany, to study building a similar galvanizing plant in southeastern Brazil, American Metal Market reports.