DEARBORN, MI – Create an interior for a fuel-efficient family sedan that will go on sale in 2025.

That is the assignment given 17 talented transportation-design students at the College for Creative Studies in a competition sponsored by WardsAuto and interior suppliers Lear and International Automotive Components.

The three best answers to this challenge, chosen by a jury of top auto industry designers, were given the spotlight during a special ceremony at the WardsAuto Interiors Conference here.

Merrill Mathew is the grand award winner, with a finely crafted concept that captures Toyota’s design language and evolves it forward a dozen years.

Mathew’s family-focused sedan is loaded with innovative features including a built-in child seat that can be turned into a backpack for hiking with an infant. There also is a dashboard display that allows a front-seat passenger to monitor the baby in a rear-facing back seat, and a vacuum that is integrated into the floor to keep the interior neat and clean.

Kirill Ponomarenko wins the Lear Design Innovation Award for his Subaru Legacy XT concept. The Lear award is given to the student whose work includes a specific design or technological innovation the judges deem particularly inspired and forward-thinking. Judges applaud Ponomarenko’s work overall, but single out the design of the center stack for special recognition. It features a large 3-D screen built into the cover of the center console that displays a topographic map with tactile feedback.

Johad Ellis wins the IAC EcoBlend Award, which goes to the student design that best embraces green mobility or uses lightweight, renewable/recyclable materials and other Earth-friendly innovations.

Ellis created a graceful Mazda-branded design with flowing lines and a center console that can be detached and used as personal luggage. In a whimsical touch, a motorized camera circumnavigates the vehicle roof, capturing panoramic images of every road trip. However, Ellis’ extensive focus on environmentally friendly materials such as soy based seating foam and advanced nano-yarn fabrics won him special recognition.   

The winners were selected by four of the auto industry’s leading designers: Scott Strong, director-design at Ford; Klaus Busse, head of interior design at Chrysler; Ariel Choi, lead designer at Toyota; and Eric Clough, director-Cadillac interior design at General Motors.

WardsAuto asked the four judges to evaluate the student designs on these criteria:

  • Realistic usage of technologies and materials.
  • Unique ambient lighting concepts.
  • Innovative ideas for driver interaction (while minimizing driver distraction).
  • Safety features for 2025 that meet consumer demands and government regulations.
  • Overall design. How does it all come together?

Instructor Joann Jung, manager-global interior design strategy at Ford, guided the students and helped them keep their projects within agreed-upon boundaries.

The design brief called on students to base their projects on a model from WardsAuto’s Upper Middle Car segment, evolved forward to 2025. This category is defined as having four or five doors, measuring 185 ins. to 200 ins. (4,699 mm to 5,080 mm) long, with a base price of $21,501 to $32,000 in 2012 dollars.

The cars currently in this segment include the Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry and 14 other models.

The projects of all 17 students were on display at the WardsAuto Interiors Conference as well as the SAE World Congress in April. Videos of each student’s presentation to the judges can be viewed on wardsauto.com.

dwinter@wardsauto.com