Johnson Controls Inc. is stripping down auto interiors to reduce weight while also giving automakers a new design element to play with.
In its re3 concept, unveiled Jan. 11 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, JCI showed door panels, instrument panels and other interior trim parts made without a traditional cover skin like PVC, urethane or thermoplastic olefin.
Instead, the company proposed improving the look of a resin and natural material blend that is normally used as an inner substrate and allowing it to shine.
``There's an honesty in the materials here that I think people are responding to,'' said Michael Warsaw, vice president of design and marketing for JCI's auto interiors unit, based in Plymouth, Mich.
The concept, called Fibrewood, is compression molded using thermoplastic and natural fillers such as kenaf and hemp and specially treated to create a smooth surface that will resist stains and fading.
``Typically, you're covering that with vinyl or different cover stocks, and we thought, why not leave that off?'' said Danny Larsen, principal designer for interiors.
``There's a certain fashion or eco-statement that you're able to make with it. When you look at it, you might think: `That's not very appealing. That's something I'd buy at the hardware store.' But, when you take that and add leather and chrome and other details to it, you create a whole new design aesthetic for the interior of the vehicle,'' Larsen said.
It's not just about design. By eliminating cover skins, JCI can reduce the weight of interior trim parts by 30 percent and simplify manufacturing, Warsaw said.
Beneath the Fibrewood surface and the visible level of the car, JCI proposed other changes. The re3 concept replaces the standard metal cross-car support beam under the instrument panel with a hybrid system that uses both steel and structural plastic.
On the driver's side, which requires steel for the steering wheel column, the cross-car beam is replaced with a three-piece structure resembling a tripod, Larsen said.
On the passenger side, though, the instrument panel uses injection molded structural plastic, which allows the firm to change the shape of the structural parts and free up storage space within the instrument panel.
The concept provides even more space which JCI termed ``ecospace'' by moving controls for the radio, heat and air conditioning and other parts to the center console.
JCI is presenting its concepts to automakers now in hopes of gaining sales in future models.