Compacts bring life to interiors

By Rhoda Miel
News Editor

Published: February 1, 2013 2:09 pm ET
Updated: February 1, 2013 2:24 pm ET

Auto interior

Image By: Plastics News photo by Rhoda Miel The design and bright colors of the Volkswagen Beetle's interior is a lure for U.S. small-car buyers who want fuel efficiency without sacrificing style.

Related to this story

Topics End Markets, Automotive, Automotive parts
Companies & Associations Companies & Associations, BMW AG, Ford Motor Co., Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Magna International Inc., Nissan Motor Corp., Toyota Motor Corp.

DETROIT — The American car buyers may still love their sports utility vehicles and pickup trucks, but there is an increasing emphasis on small cars as the industry faces new fuel economy requirements.

Those small cars — including near-term concepts that debuted at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit — are not just the same old econo-boxes, though. They have a new emphasis on style, both inside and out, that offers the opportunity for interior suppliers to bring new ideas and materials to the market.

"There's more in architecture, more with color and more in material choices that are much more bold that are going into the smaller cars," said Andreas Wlasak, vice president of industrial design for Faurecia SA, based in Nanterre, France.

"You almost see a polarization, in that there's nothing happening in the [midsize vehicle] field," he said in a Jan. 15 interview at the auto show. "Everything that is new is either happening in very cheap, very small cars or in the luxury premium side."

Pin the new interest in small cars for North America on fuel economy standards. The U.S. government will require automakers to reach a Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Since that standard is across a carmaker's entire fleet, the more people who buy small, fuel-efficient cars, the more breathing space the automakers will have to accommodate buyers who still want — or need — larger vehicles.

So rather than building a small car that meets basic requirements, carmakers want to build cars that will draw new buyers to them and boost sales.

"It really wasn't that long ago that you saw the small cars merely as a vehicle that gets you from point A to point B," said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for industry consulting group LMC Automotive US Inc. in Troy, Mich. "That's been the major shift. It's not just [the automakers] saying, 'Here's a vehicle we can sell for that market.' They're now designing for buyers who want something new in that market."

Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. debuted its new Versa Note subcompact at the auto show, while Toyota Motor Co. showed a concept Corolla Furia to show the look of its next version of the Corolla compact.

Honda Motor Co. is bringing production of its Fit subcompact to North America at a new plant under construction now in Celaya, Mexico, which will allow the carmaker to begin making the car in the region, rather than importing it from assembly plants in Japan. The Celaya plant will also make a compact SUV based on the Fit platform; Honda showed a concept version of the crossover — the Urban SUV — at the Detroit show.

The European auto market has been ahead of the North American pack for several years in making cars that would fit into much smaller spaces, simply because of the logistics of living there.

"Here, the parking spot is twice the size as in Europe, so you can park a car and still open the doors. In Paris, you cannot," Wlaszak said.

But buyers there still wanted something that stands out — which has led to more acceptance for different textures, colors and materials in small cars. BMW AG's Mini, Volkswagen AG's Beetle and Fiat SpA's 500 have all broken through the small-car clutter with bright colors and designs, he pointed out.

"You definitely have a little more space to be creative in a smaller car," Schuster agreed. "You want [the car] to be more attractive to various age groups — especially the younger car buyer and buyers who are more inclined to look at something more interesting or with more style."

At the same time, even those small and midsize cars that do not get a colorful design theme are getting more attention in interiors. Improved manufacturing capabilities within the suppliers' plants are making it possible to provide cars with foam padding and soft-touch urethane or polyolefin skins at a competitive price.

"We're able to make them at lower cost with a higher throughput, and use a lot of robotic techniques — even in stitching, which allows us to automate something which used to be hand stitching," said Tom Pilette, vice president of product and process innovation at Magna International Inc. "That really allows us to bring those [details] down even into entry-level vehicles."

If smaller vehicles have the same quality trim as bigger, more expensive vehicles, people will be more likely to buy them, which will only help to ease the automaker's average fuel economy numbers.

"There's no question that while we may be in a bit of a larger-vehicle reprise right now, that will be short-lived and smaller cars are going to become more important," Schuster said. "In interiors, the amenities, the features, the materials used are going to be of focus and attention from buyers who don't want to feel like they're giving up some aspect of what they had before."


Comments

Compacts bring life to interiors

By Rhoda Miel
News Editor

Published: February 1, 2013 2:09 pm ET
Updated: February 1, 2013 2:24 pm ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Bayer spinning off plastics business

September 18, 2014 8:49 am ET

Bayer AG will spin off its MaterialScience plastics group into a separate, publicly-traded company within the next 12 to 18 months.    More

Image

Study: 75 percent of Australia's ocean debris is plastic

September 18, 2014 7:48 pm ET

About 75 percent of the trash found in the waters off Australia's beaches is plastic, with most of that coming from local sources rather than sea-...    More

Image

Investor group wants DuPont to split in two

September 18, 2014 7:37 pm ET

Investment firm Trian Fund Management LP is calling for plastics and chemicals giant DuPont Co. to split itself into two firms, one of which would...    More

Image

P&G removing PE microbeads from its Crest brand toothpaste

September 18, 2014 1:57 pm ET

After months of prodding, Procter & Gamble Co., the makers of Crest brand toothpastes, say polyethlene microbeads will be completely removed from its ...    More

Image

Smartphone work adds 52 percent to sales for China's Eva Precision

September 18, 2014 4:37 pm ET

Growth in supplying the smartphone and automotive industries helped Chinese processor Eva Precision Holdings Ltd. push injection molding sales up 52 p...    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