It's All In The Interior Attitude

No one needs to be told of the challenges facing automakers these days: more products from fewer platforms, unprecedented cost pressures, increasing numbers of niche vehicles.

No one needs to be told of the challenges facing automakers these days: more products from fewer platforms, unprecedented cost pressures, increasing numbers of niche vehicles. Not to mention the desire for greater personalization from a driving population that is more segmented than ever before. “There are diverse expectations from customers, some of which are seemingly contradictory,” says Andreas Wlasak, v.p. Industrial Design, Faurecia (Nanterre, France; “What we must do is interpret what customers—actual and potential—want and what that will mean for the future.”

Starting with a Nissan Micra city car, the Faurecia team created a suite of interchangeable elements that drivers can choose from to alter the interior’s ambience. The concept is called “Happy Attitude,” a name that is meant to reflect the warm, cheerful colors of the four collections (“ginkgo,” “kumquat,” “moon,” and “pop”), and not a dinner selection at a Chinese restaurant. Each uses a different technology to keep costs low, simplify product approval, and create a unique mood or image. “As you might suspect,” says Wlasak, “to make this concept cost-effective, it must be integrated into the overall design of the vehicle’s interior architecture so we can incorporate the ‘snap and release’ elements into the design at an affordable price.”

The interchangeable elements include an instrument panel cover, door storage bags, seat trim, and upper door pads. To make them work in concert with the rest of the interior, the carpet is a non-woven, needle-punched, multi-color design, and the interface parts (door handles, shift knob, etc.) are a neutral color. Any shapes formed in the interchangeable items are molded, not stitched to create interesting shapes without adding to the piece cost or affecting part durability. “After all,” says Wlasak, “many of these pieces can be removed and thrown in to the washer for easy cleaning.”

Digital printing was chosen for the instrument panel cover of the “pop” collection, which is an exploded-view scene from the André Citroën Park in Paris, though the photo could be switched on the fly by swapping image files in the digital printer before the fabric that is foamed into its final shape. “moon” features injected polyurethane, and the soft surface is obtained without using a foam filling process. The feeling of softness is created by the air between the grooves behind the skin. Vent covers also are included in the dash panel, which is created using a patented structured skin that includes translucent areas. For the “kumquat” interior, the bright red panels use adjustable-beam laser marking to place an inscription in the piece after it has been cut out. This even can be done at the end of the assembly line to place the owner’s name in the pieces, if desired. Finally, the “ginkgo” collection uses a progressive grain that is never repeated over the parts. The pattern is positioned, not replicated, and the seat covers use an embossing technique that creates reliefs or shapes without adding elements.

“Surprisingly, there has been a lot of interest in the concept in North America from the design, purchasing, and management communities,” says Wlasak, “especially since it lets an OEM use one platform, one substructure, and brand-specific coverings for very little cost.” And while Faurecia showed the concept on a city car, the same process can be used to increase the personalization possibilities for upmarket vehicles by offering a variety of interior trim materials and grains.—CAS