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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Ward's conference in Dearborn looks at future of car interiors

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Ward's conference in Dearborn looks at future of car interiors

Scott Burgess and Alisa Priddle / The Detroit News

Dearborn -- Consumers should expect future vehicle interiors to offer more choices and new materials, and incorporate all the features of a cell phone.

Interior designers, engineers, suppliers and carmakers gathered at the Ritz-Carlton in Dearborn Wednesday to discuss, look at and fret over the inside of cars and trucks during Ward's Auto Interiors Conference.

"You're still going to see many of the same things you see today, but there are going to be a lot more choices," said Liz Curran, color and trim manager at Hyundai Design North America.

Mark Phillips, interior designer for the Jaguar XJ luxury sedan, said it's "amazing how many features customers want today."

Meeting those demands is essential to the success of any vehicle, especially with new customers, said J Mays, Ford Motor Co.'s vice president of design and chief creative officer.

Mays said forget trying to design for millennials, the burgeoning group of consumers born after 1980, as a whole generation. "They are changing at a rapid pace, something we have never seen before."

Mays said millennials expect their interiors to cater to them and to have options. More importantly, they want cars that connect to the outside world.

Bob Schumacher, who oversees advanced products at Troy-based Delphi Holdings LLP, has been debating the future of telematics, which essentially combine computers with wireless technology, and navigation systems with the advent of cell phones for more than a decade.

"We are now at the threshold of the explosion of connectivity," Schumacher said.

Chris Preuss, president of General Motors Co.'s OnStar unit, said "people are tethered to their devices like never before.

"The idea that people will be separated from their devices is just not going to happen."

Preuss predicted that ensuring the number of deaths linked to distracted driving does not escalate will be "a major social imperative" in the next decade.

Regulatory pressures to deal with the issue are "a wild card we can't predict," he said. Automakers don't want to invest in technology only to have it banned by new legislation.

Applications, or apps, and features streaming through a car's console lose their value when a distracted driver rams into the back of a minivan full of kids, Preuss said.

Vesa Luiro, director of Nokia Automotive in Berlin, used the conference to announce that the operating system Nokia created to make the services of a smart phone or iPod available in a vehicle is being offered for use by the industry as a proposed standard. It is free for use by the auto industry as well as Google, Apple and other competitors. The idea is to eliminate fragmentation and ensure anyone's phone is compatible with any vehicle's telematics system.

Consumers would benefit from being able to change their phone without being concerned it will no longer marry well with their car.

Luiro expects products using a common system to be on the market next year.

The auto industry is always seeking standardization, said Vic Peltola, director of sales and business development for TRW Automotive Holdings Inc. in Livonia.

Future designers also have to design global vehicles that cater to the needs of drivers in different parts of the world. "Luxury in China is much different than it is here," said Richard Vaughn, design manager at Van Buren Township-based Visteon Corp. "And in India it's very different than here or China."

Vaughn recently completed a year-long study of the Indian market and said consumers there want their vehicle to stand out and tout their individuality. The exact opposite is true in China, he said.

Designers said they are constantly looking at new materials and ways to treat them to provide a more tactile interior.

Yuri Starik, interior designer for the Acura RDX crossover sport utility vehicle, said the luxury brand searched the globe to find a company that could wrap interior panels with soft leather. In the past, leather was often sanded down until it was hard.

Jaguar's Phillips added that he would like to see things like carbon fiber incorporated into interior design. While expensive, carbon fiber could be a way to reduce weight in the cabin -- something designers and engineers are continually asked to do to improve fuel economy.

Hyundai is looking for ways to make the interior cooler -- both in form and function -- through different colors. An interior that absorbs less heat means cutting back on air conditioning, which could improve fuel efficiency, Curran said.

Ford's Mays warned against making any interior too complex or busy. "Imagine a very small room with a trumpet player playing really loud," Mays said. "You'll notice it, but very quickly, you'll get annoyed with it."

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100520/AUTO01/5200349/1148/Ward-s-conference-in-Dearborn-looks-at-future-of-car-interiors#ixzz0oTQUzJCR

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