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

A. Schulman reports growth in sales and profit

October 22, 2014 7:58 pm ET

Executives with materials maker A. Schulman Inc. have to be smiling after seeing full results for the firm's 2014 fiscal year.    More

Image

PolyOne takes on LED lighting

October 22, 2014 4:23 pm ET

PolyOne Corp. is making inroads into LED lighting applications with its Therma-Tech-brand material technology.    More

Image

Simple lightweighting in packaging, caps not so simple anymore

October 22, 2014 4:16 pm ET

The days of finding simple ways to remove additional weight — and costs — from plastic bottles are over, according to one expert.    More

Image

Sales, orders climbing for Wittmann Battenfeld

October 22, 2014 4:04 pm ET

Equipment maker Wittmann Battenfeld GmbH expects sales this year to increase 7 percent, to 295 million euros, as it said some key markets, including...    More

Image

Bergen International adds manufacturing space, extrusion line

October 22, 2014 3:42 pm ET

Chemical foaming agent manufacturer Bergen International LLC recently doubled its manufacturing capacity, added an extrusion line and laboratory space...    More

Market Reports

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

Plastics in Mexico - State of the Industry Report

This report analyzes the $20 million dollar plastics industry in Mexico including sales of machinery & equipment, resins and finished products.

Our analysts provide insight on business trends, foreign investment, top end markets and plastics processing activity. The report also provides important data on exports, production, employment and value of plastics products manufactured.

Learn more

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

Upcoming Plastics News Events

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

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