Copycats don’t cut it when it comes to design for car interiors

Lauren Hilgers

Published: April 27, 2012 6:00 am ET

CAIP President Todd Fortner, left, and Faurecia’s Qiong Wang (Plastics News photo by Laurence Mak/Ginger Advertising)

Related to this story

Topics Automotive, Materials, Design

SHANGHAI (April 27, 12:10 p.m. ET) — After years of arriving in China with exact copies of the cars sold in the West, international automakers are getting wise to the different design expectations of Chinese customers. For designers of car interiors, that could mean making small adjustments to instrument panels — or gutting the car’s entire interior and starting fresh.

Two auto suppliers talked about the challenges of tailoring car interiors for the China market at the China Plastics in Automotive conference, held April 17 in Shanghai and sponsored by Plastics News.

CAIP Group President Todd Fortner said that, in general, customers often don’t know what makes them like a car when they sit in it. “The first rule in design is safety, safety, safety,” Fortner insisted. But, a car needs to feel safe and exciting at the same time, he said.

Changshu-based CAIP — Changshu Automotive Trim Co. — designs and manufactures interiors for carmakers including VW and Mercedes Benz. In fact, the firm is opening two new factories in Beijing to serve Mercedes Benz exclusively.

Carmakers, said Fortner, bring their models to the Chinese market with one of three attitudes. Some carmakers won’t change their car interiors at all — but they want manufacturing capabilities in China; some will adjust already existing designs; and some will do a complete overhaul, he said.

 “When I first started working, I joked with my owner that [CAIP] stood for “Copying Automotive Interior Parts,” Fortner said. Today, that has completely changed, he said: “Now we’re moving into the space-age.”

Makers of many luxury cars, for example, feel their interiors are designed to meet expectations of global customers, he said. Others make slight adjustments, such as Nissan Motor Co. did for its midsize luxury Nissan Teana. “In China, the interior is a light color, there is lots of wood — there is a high-tech feel for China,” Fortner said. In Japan, the interior for the car is grayer, more utilitarian.

Fortner said he has worked on a number of complete overhauls as well. “The Cadillac SLS changed the complete interior for the Chinese customer,” he said. “This is a customer that would be chauffeured, so we put a lot more features in the rear seat of the car — a lot more wood and a lot more leather.” 

Plastics, which offer certain freedoms in design, can help achieve a balance between safety and comfort, said Qiong Wang, engineering director for seat maker Faurecia (China) Holding Co. Ltd. and general manager of the firm’s Shanghai technical center,

Engineering plastics and plastic cushions are giving designers more freedom in designing automotive seating, while also reducing the overall weight of the car.

The problem with traditional seat cushioning, Wang said, is that to make seating comfortable, the cushion must be thick and the metal skeleton very large. “With plastic cushioning you can come up with different shapes without undermining the safety,” he said. “You can make them increasingly thin.” Also, plastic composites can be used to replace some of the metal in the seating framework.

That kind of cushioning, however, is used mainly in high-end vehicles, Wang said, but he hopes to expand its use to other cars. Increasing the amount of plastics, will help reduce carbon emissions and free up designers, he said.

“The cost may be slightly higher. But we can make it safe and fulfill our customers’ highest comfort requirements.


Comments

Copycats don’t cut it when it comes to design for car interiors

Lauren Hilgers

Published: April 27, 2012 6:00 am ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Plasan investing in capacity, jobs to supply auto market with carbon fiber

September 19, 2014 3:05 pm ET

Growth in the emerging automotive market for carbon-fiber composites has spurred a $29 million investment in a Walker, Mich., factory    More

Image

Toyoda Gosei expanding in Mexico

September 19, 2014 2:33 pm ET

Toyoda Gosei North America Corp. is investing $67 million in a 398,000-square-foot plant in central Mexico to supply the automotive industry with...    More

Exo-s buys injection and blow molder in Mexico, expands footprint

September 19, 2014 2:15 pm ET

Custom molder Exo-s Inc. has bought an injection and blow molding operation in San Juan del Rio, Querétaro, Mexico.    More

Image

Foster building medical polymers plant

September 19, 2014 1:39 pm ET

Foster Delivery Science is investing $8 million in a new plant in Putnam, Conn., for production of medical polymer blends, as well as rods, film or...    More

Image

BP to restart damaged PTA unit in limited capacity by November

September 19, 2014 10:27 am ET

British Petroleum plc may restart its fire-damaged purified terephthalic acid (PTA) feedstock unit in South Carolina in late October or early November...    More

Market Reports

Plastics Caps & Closures Market Report

The annual recap of top trends and future outlook for the plastics caps & closures market features interviews with industry thought leaders and Bill Wood’s economic forecast of trends in growing end markets. You will also gain insight on trends in caps design, materials, machinery, molds & tooling and reviews of mergers & acquisitions.

Learn more

Shale Gas Market - Analysis of North American Region

This report highlights the impact of shale-based natural gas on the North American plastics market and features an in-depth analysis of production trends in the United States during 2013 and a forecast for 2014 and beyond.

Learn more

Thermoformed Packaging 2014 Market Review & Outlook – North America

This in-depth report analyzes economic and market trends, legislative/regulatory activity impacting supply and demand, business opportunities and threats, materials pricing, manufacturing technology, as well as growth strategies being implemented by thermoformed packaging companies.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

January 14, 2015 - January 14, 2015Plastics in Automotive

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

More Events