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

2014 leaves some resin firms in the black while others struggle

January 23, 2015 2:37 pm ET

On the financial side, 2014 was good for Hexcel Corp., so-so for Celanese Corp. and it could have been better for Omnova Solutions.    More

Image

Berry's rebranded Blue Clover expands packaging design reach

January 23, 2015 1:59 pm ET

As design director of Berry Plastics Corp.'s rebranded packaging design studio, Scott Fisher believes the new name of Blue Clover Studios cuts the...    More

Image

Clariant's ColorForward predicts future consumer trends

January 23, 2015 1:33 pm ET

Clariant International Ltd. is marking a decade of color forecasting with the 10th edition of its ColorForward program.    More

Image

The future for PolyOne is colorful

January 23, 2015 1:28 pm ET

PolyOne Corp. is writing four color stories for 2016.    More

Plastics executive pleads guilty in federal firearm case

January 23, 2015 12:37 pm ET

Richard Cummings, 43, a former manager at Tri Town Precision Plastics Inc. in Deep River, Conn., has pleaded guilty to violating federal firearms laws...    More

Market Reports

Plastics in Automotive: Innovation & Emerging Trends

This special report newly released by PN and sponsored by The Conair Group examines current trends in the use of plastics in automotive, materials innovations and the changing landscape. It includes a review of legislative/regulatory activity impacting vehicle development and lightweighting, market opportunities & challenges for mold and toolmakers, innovative design strategies being implemented by major OEMs and suppliers, as well as a review of key indicators in Canada, Mexico, Brazil and China.

Learn more

Plastics Recycling Trends in North America

This report is a review and analysis of the North American Plastics Recycling Industry, including key trends and statistics based on 2013 performance. We examine market environment factors, regulatory issues, industry challenges, key drivers and emerging trends in post-consumer and post-industrial recycling.

Learn more

Injection Molding Market Analysis & Processor Rankings

Plastics News BUNDLED package contains our in-depth Market Analysis of the Injection Molding segment. You will gain keen insight on current trends and our economic outlook.

As a BONUS this includes PN's updated 2014 database of North American Injection Molders RANKED by sales volume. Sort, merge, mail & prospect by end market, materials processed, region, # of plants and more.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

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

June 2, 2015 - June 3, 2015Plastics Financial Summit - Chicago 2015

September 16, 2015 - September 18, 2015Plastics Caps & Closures - September 2015

More Events