Auto supplier Faurecia SA is using history to show off its future.
The company has stripped and retrofitted a 1972 Czechoslovakian-made Tatra 603/2 car and filled it with an interior concept that includes greater use of structural plastics, thin foam seating and new interior and exterior trim styles.
The concept vehicle, called Premium Attitude, debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November before Faurecia brought it to its Auburn Hills technical center, near Detroit, and showed it off to auto designers and engineers Nov. 28 and 29.
``With this car we were able to integrate a lot of ideas,'' said Olivier Boinais, chief stylist with Faurecia's North American operations, based in Troy, Mich.
Suppliers, like automakers, often create at least parts of concept cars so they can show designers potential styles for the future. Faurecia, based in Nanterre, France, previously created an interior concept it called Happy Attitude.
For the Premium Attitude, it wanted to do more than just place its interior in a nondescript box. The Tatra gave the company an actual vehicle to play with. Faurecia picked the Tatra because its exterior design already would catch customers' eyes, because it was similar in interior size to premium cars from carmakers like BMW, Audi and Mercedes, and because Tatra no longer makes cars - meaning the supplier would not have to worry about ruffling the feathers of existing automakers.
The Tatra that automakers are seeing is actually two cars. The company ended up needing to buy two run-down vehicles to produce one of ``show'' quality. It stripped out the engine and other working parts in addition to installing its own interior.
One of the biggest changes in the concept cannot even be seen, though. For its instrument panel, the company eliminated the cross-car beam - the steel bar that runs along the width of the car, essentially becoming the backbone of the instrument panel, with functional and aesthetic parts alike attached to it.
Instead, Faurecia used a tripod structure on the driver's side of the car, from the floor on the driver's left side, up to the steering column and down into the center console area. Everything else then uses its own integrated structural capabilities, such as ribs, thick walls and other techniques.
``It's a different way of looking at the structure,'' Boinais said. ``We understand the plastic, and know what we can do with it.''
Eliminating the beam frees up space along the front of the car for more storage and passenger entertainment options. In its concept, Faurecia shifts the passenger heating and air-conditioning controls to the passenger area, rather than the center console, since there is now room for it.
``We're able to blur the zones, instead of having everything where it's typically placed now,'' Boinais said.
The tripod beam is not on any vehicles now - only a few of the concepts shown on Premium Attitude are coming on the market in the next year - but Faurecia has run tests that show it is a feasible option. For now, the company is introducing automakers to the concept, to get them interested in exploring ideas further.
``We want to get involved in the process earlier,'' he said.