DETROIT – Baby boomers and their preferences are returning to favor in many sectors, including the auto industry, and interior suppliers are taking that into account.

Suppliers charged with responding to the ever-evolving needs of auto consumers say the industry is on the cusp of introducing a new wave of cockpit features, materials and overall designs that cut across many demographic boundaries.

Stan Rayford, program leader for Momentum at DuPont Automotive, a designer and producer of numerous interior components, says his company is keenly aware that customers from varying demographics are pleased by different features, appearances and functionality.

He says DuPont plans to meet as many preferences as possible. In particular, the company is endeavoring to understand the wants and desires of the so-called “Generation Y” consumer, as well as the famously “square” Baby Boomer buyer, especially females.

“Women are the primary consumers in the American market today,” Rayford says, noting purchasing decisions for 85% of all goods and services are driven by women.

Indeed, female Baby Boomers may be a bellwether for future auto interior trends. They often seek items that blend convenience and functionality, he says, citing the cupholder as an example.

All vehicle users appreciate a well-designed cupholder, he says, noting that the Ward’s Auto Interiors show here has a specific award to celebrate the industry’s best cupholder design.

But DuPont designers are seeking to take the goal of the cupholder and extend it to new, perhaps as-yet undefined, features or functions.

Rayford thinks Generation Y also will be a key demographic to address with new interior innovations.

“They are not adopting the brands and designs of their parents,” he says. This group seeks to make more of a public statement with its purchases, and that will extend to vehicles, as well.

DuPont surmises the group’s predilection for modifying vehicle exteriors will extend to interiors and is preparing for a new generation of interiors that can be changed and modified quickly and at a reasonable cost.

The company believes the lifecycle of an interior will become shorter than the lifecycle of the vehicle itself, as young buyers seek to change the interior’s appearance to suit their evolving tastes.

Rayford says to address this, coming interior trends will seek to “redefine” the notion of climate control, expand the use of stain- and odor-resistant materials and develop new acoustic enhancements.

Richard Vaughan, design manager at Visteon Corp., says his company has identified several emerging near-term trends for auto interior design that include: simplicity; elegant controls; technical materials and finishes; natural materials; and ambiance lighting.

Vaughan says Visteon also is focused on extending once-premium features and materials to less-expensive vehicles. Examples include leather for instrument panels and premium interior lighting packages.

bvisnic@wardsauto.com