Special Coverage

Auto Interiors Conference

DEARBORN, MI – The physiology of tomorrow’s consumer will be different than that of today and clever auto makers will design vehicle interiors accordingly, a design-trend analyst says.

The next cohort of consumers “is the first generation to be raised looking down,” says Maxine Lauer, founder and CEO of Sphere Trending, a Michigan-based firm that forecasts design trends.

For all or most of their lives, they have been staring at display screens on devices such as PDAs, hand-held video games, iPods and laptop computers. As a result, they see things differently, Lauer says, adding this group reads outward from the center of a page, not left to right.

“Your eyes grow in the visual field they are most accustomed to,” she tells Ward’s Auto Interiors Conference attendees.

And while their peripheral vision is less developed, they have an acute knack for quickly deciphering what is directly in front of them. Auto makers and suppliers must consider this when designing future vehicle interiors, especially those features that provide driver information, Lauer advises.

These consumers, which Lauer describes as “Gen Now,” represent some 84 million people between the ages of 15 and 34, encompassing the 76 million between 16 and 33 who conventionally are known as Gen Y. And their impact is being felt, appropriately, now.

“They are a very influential generation,” Lauer says, adding Boomer-aged consumers consult Gen Now constituents on purchases ranging from electronics to fashion.

But future information displays needn’t be high-tech. Lauer suggests dashboards could play host to dry-erase boards, because Gen Now members have embraced the art of leaving messages and “they love to make their mark.”

Gen Now also has health considerations previous generations did not face at a young age. Expect this group to need extra seating support, Lauer says. “Their backs have carried 50 lbs. (23 kg) in a (school) backpack.”

But on the marketing side, things could get simpler. Historically, women consumers have held sway when it comes to making purchase decisions – not so for Gen Now.

“There is more equality now,” Lauer says, adding Gen Now’s male component has had ready access to trend-oriented media influences, ranging from cooking shows to Martha Stewart Living.

emayne@wardsauto.com