Rethinking The Interior

Gary S. Vasilash

Faurecia designers and engineers set out to make an interior that is lighter and more recyclable than conventional ones. They've developed something that may lead to a reconsideration of how and with what materials ought to be assembled.

If you get into any car built within the last three years, there is one thing that is either there or not there, one thing that is either done OK or not done particularly well. The thing in question is an iPod interface. And vehicle electronics engineers have been doing their darnedest to get at the very least a jack in the car so that it can be plugged in. Which brings us to the Light Attitudes interior demonstration buck developed by Faurecia. This rethinking of what instrument panels, seats, and door modules are, this reconsideration of textures and materials, storage and configurability, includes what is arguably the most elegant solution to the iPod issue.
It uses the iPod. Period. You've got an iPod Touch or an iPhone. It contains your music and your info. It has the means by which it can connect to the Internet and download things like maps. So what more do you need as regards listening to tunes or finding a route? Not much, it seems.
In the Faurecia approach, there is a slot in the top of the IP. Into the slot goes the Apple device. It docks. And presto-change-o, you now have an integrated iPod in your car. There are knobs that you can use to control things like volume of the device on the IP (which is an ergonomic advantage when you're driving). And if your eyes are a bit on the myopic side, then there can be a lens placed in the front of the device such that it is easier to see.
Simple. Straightforward. Effective.
And there are other aspects of the concept that are equally intriguing, albeit not necessarily for those who have rather strict notions of what's right within an automotive interior. Take, for example, the use of fabric for the top of the traditionally solid glove box lid. Or, similarly, the use of fabric over the instrument panel such that the HVAC air is diffused in the cabin without the use of those clever-but-complicated hard vent devices.
Or consider the center console. While the required cup holder is provided, the whole other aspect of the console is rethought. That is, as it is essentially a storage unit, it is more like a type of storage unit that has been around for a lot longer than car center consoles: It is like a fabric bag.
Much of the thinking as regards this deployment of fabric rather than plastic goes to an objective of reducing overall vehicle weight, with, according to Faurecia, an overall interior weight reduction of as much as 20% compared with conventional interior approaches.
A place where there is a closer similarity to the norm is in the seats. Here there is a fabric top surface and a plastic structure below. But here the designers and engineers have taken a page from Nike rather than La-Z-Boy. Whereas the typical approach to seats is to take blocks of foam and then to sew fabric around them, in the Light Attitude seats have a plastic cellular structure in place of the foam. This resembles the sort of thing than can be see on the sole of a Nike Air Max+. Just as the running shoes are remarkably lightweight, they've calculated a 15% weight save for the seats. What's more, there is also a consideration of recyclability, which this seat has been engineered to facilitate.
There are other areas on the interior that also help improve performance while reducing overall weight. For example, the insulation between the engine compartment and the passenger compartment. Whereas the typical approach at the firewall is to use a two layer mat that consists of chalk and plastics, the Light Attitude approach makes a sandwich-style insulator with foam on either side of a thin, airtight layer. This not only provides the necessary noise attenuation, but the weight is reduced by as much as 30%.
There is an exceedingly clever approach to the audio speakers in the door panels. Or, more specifically, to the sound chamber that surrounds the speakers. As it is necessary to have an internal structure anyway, they've designed and engineered the space around the speaker such that the structure is a chamber that helps, in effect, amplify the sound. Consequently, smaller speakers can have bigger sound (or bigger speakers can have really, really big sound). Given that the magnets and windings of speakers have plenty of mass, this approach means that smaller, conventional speakers can be used without performance degradation.