Gray and tan interiors are the norm in U.S. vehicles today, but 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 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 at the Auto Interiors Show 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 vehicle 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 in vehicle interiors. 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.

The benefits include more flexibility and improved fit and finish. 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.

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.

Russell says it just may take more time for people to embrace these technologies.

“Consumers won't know they want something if they haven't been able to experience it,” Russell says. “After two weeks with our first key fob, I told my wife we'd never be without one again.”

Lear is entrenched in the emerging market for fobs equipped with remote-starting for vehicles — a handy tool on a cold winter morning.

Russell says the next generation of fobs may come equipped with 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.