Automotive interior designs have come a very long way in the past 10 years, but trim components such as headliners and package trays still are dullsville. At their best, they simply blend in with the rest of the interior, unnoticed. At worst, their colors and textures clash with everything else, giving a cheap look to the entire interior.

Sir Hal Miller, Chairman of Cosmopolitan Textile Co. Ltd., a major British fabric producer, says he has a better idea: patterned nonwoven "engineered fabrics" that can be used to cover interior trim components for a wallpaper-like effect.

Headliners, door-trim panels, package trays -- and maybe even seats and instrument panels -- covered with patterned fabrics aren't right for every vehicle, Mr. Miller admits, but he argues they can be used with great success to create certain moods and styling effects on special models and trim levels.

Lightweight, low-cost and easy to recycle, he says nonwovens have all the right credentials to win wide acceptance as cover fabrics for interior trim components. Nonwoven fabrics also can be easily molded into complex shapes and tolerate much higher molding temperatures than conventional materials, he adds.

Nonwoven fabrics also are great for covering up imperfections in substrate materials (which might otherwise be scrapped) and for solving color- and texture-match problems among adjacent interior components.

So far, such daring use of colors and fabric patterns has been more popular in Europe and Japan, in sporty, youth-oriented cars such as the Renault Twingo. However, Mr. Miller is optimistic that his fabrics will win acceptance among U.S. designers doing interiors for sporty new cars aimed at youthful buyers and pickups and sport/utility vehicles.

He says he expects his fabrics to be used on at least one U.S.-built vehicle this year.