Once upon a time, a vehicle interior was a place where you just sat and steered and maybe listened to the radio.

Now, it has evolved into a complex environment where drivers and passengers are coddled, entertained and kept safe like never before.

There are seats that give you a massage; multi-media entertainment options; and numerous ways of interacting with vehicle systems, from soft-touch buttons to voice activation.

A great interior nowadays doesn’t just have nice leather and wood trim; it defines a brand and sells the car.

An independent study by DaimlerChrysler AG executives concludes that the first 90 seconds inside a vehicle will make or break a customer’s impression of that particular brand.

Beautifully executed interiors are a major reason why General Motors Corp.’s new fullsize SUVs are selling strongly and gaining market share in a segment that is steadily shrinking in the face of soaring fuel prices.

On June 7 and 8, automotive designers and engineers will gather in Detroit’s Cobo Center at the Auto Interiors show to analyze and discuss how brands can be revitalized and inner space conquered through interior design.

Ward’s Automotive Group sponsors the show.

Bob Lutz, GM vice chairman-global product development, and Mark Hogan, president, Magna International Inc. headline a list of speakers and panel discussions that cover four key elements of the interior: design, electronics, safety and economics.

A total of 14 individual sessions will address everything from the safety challenges posed by in-car gadgetry to how interiors can be customized to support a particular brand or attract a specific buyer demographic.

Lutz will kick off the conference at 9 a.m., June 7 with a keynote address that talks about revitalizing a brand by refining interior design.

Hogan will open the show on June 8 by explaining how interiors are becoming a tie-breaker in purchase decisions. Intier Automotive Interiors is an operating group of Magna International.

Hogan’s comments will be followed by an OEM/supplier open forum that includes Bo Andersson, GM vice president-global purchasing and supply chain; Mark VandeVelde, senior manage-purchasing, North American Cost Planning for Honda Motor Co. Ltd; and Ann Carter, director-Americas interior/electrical purchasing, Ford Motor Co.

dwinter@wardsauto.com