DETROIT – Newer technologies are making it easier to fit more into less vehicle-interior space.

For example, Ident NA Technology LLC sensors, as small as a fingertip, can be positioned throughout the vehicle and eliminate much of the wiring traditionally needed for power switches.

“Our sensors can be moved around the vehicle and used to increase volume and change stations,” Stefan Donat, chief operating officer of Ident NA Technology, says at the recent Ward’s Auto Interiors Show here.

“There are no cables, no wires. We developed an RFID (radio frequency identification) system. It’s a reading device that gets back a signal, and you put the human body in between because it’s conductive. People can transmit a little bit of energy.”

Donat says there are at least 20 different applications for the sensors, and that Ident can get rid of approximately 20%-30% of the wiring with its new technology.

TRW Automotive frees up more space in vehicle interiors by increasing electronic functions, using integrated electronic-control panels, touch-sensitive switching and steering-wheel switch integration, says Dan Mittelbrun, senior manager for TRW Automotive’s body controls system division.

The number of user-interface electronics and functions in a vehicle is increasing rapidly, and integration and packaging of these features is driving additional user interface controls and displays, he says.

Integrated control-system architecture solves packaging challenges driven by increasing functionality demand.

“Sometimes, less is more in a vehicle,” Mittelbrun says. “Button size, shape, location and the choice of materials is very important. The consumer-electronics market continues to boom. They are inventing new gadgets and ‘toys’ at an alarming rate.”

Integrated electronic-control panels in the center stack are eliminating switches on the dashboard and throughout the vehicle, says Tim Yerdon, who is responsible for tracking and analyzing market trends for Visteon Corp.

As more and more drivers rely on hand-held Internet and navigation units, iPods and cell phones, Yerdon says, it’s becoming more important to integrate use into the vehicle.

Items such as captive touch sensing, paddle shift and reconfigurable steering-wheel controls, shift-by-wire, keyless ignition and electronic park brakes are helping prove the less-is-more theory for vehicle interiors, he says.

“We are putting devices in other areas of the vehicle than we traditionally have up to today,” Yerdon says. “We look at unique and different ways to apply these technologies.”

But less is best doesn’t always prevail, at least not according to a 2007 J.D. Power and Associates customer-satisfaction survey on knob and button sizes, shapes, locations and material selection.

Yerdon says brands such as Ford, Suzuki, Chrysler and Kia fared far better than BMW, Subaru, Volkswagen and Mitsubishi in the survey. Indeed, large and simple rotary knobs found on less-expensive vehicles scored higher for ease of use.

dstark@wardsauto.com